The fight for independence—not the act, but the word

July has arrived, and with it a period of epic picnics and fireworks. That means only one thing.

I’m breaking out the big soapbox.

We’re hours away from a day that’s supposed to be dedicated to America’s independence, when our forefathers decided they were mad as hell at England, and they weren’t going to take it anymore. With that independence comes free speech, which is why I can’t understand why people have such great difficulty today saying “Happy Independence Day.”

 

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Gresham, Wisconsin, has a jump on much of the country, celebrating Independence Day on Saturday. (Photo by Lee Pulaski)

Independence. It’s a beautiful thing. It means we don’t have to depend on anyone or anything when we pursue happiness. We celebrate this time of year with big picnics, grandiose parades and draping ourselves in red, white and blue. Ergo, we’re celebrating right, but instead of whooping it up for freedom, we’re partying for a date on the calendar.

 

Think that’s a stretch? Then how come everywhere you turn, you hear or see “Happy Fourth of July”? Many times, folks can’t even be bothered with all four words and reduce it to two: “Happy Fourth!” Fourth what? Fourth child? Fourth custom-made rifle? Fourth attempt to drink yourself into a coma?

We don’t celebrate Christmas by saying “Happy 25th of December.” We don’t say “Happy 17th of March” when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. Saying “Happy 11th of November” in lieu of “Happy Veterans Day” would probably result in American Legion and VFW posts chasing you down the street. So why is it hard to use the word independence when celebrating our freedom?

In 1776, the Continental Congress formally approved the Declaration of Independence. The legal approval took place on July 2 of that year, although scholars say the wording was revised and finalized two days later.

John Adams, the man who would become the United States’ second president, wrote this to his wife:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

While Adams was right about the celebrating with parades, guns, etc., we don’t talk about our independence. (We also don’t celebrate the Second of July.) Maybe folks today are afraid England will come back and repossess the country if we dare to say the word. I’ve got news for those people—England doesn’t want us back.

Independence Day became a federal holiday in 1870, albeit an unpaid one. It became a paid holiday in 1938. Note that I said the government made “Independence Day” a holiday, not the “Fourth of July.”

I have an issue with this every year, but I think it really struck a nerve this year while I was at work, proofing copy for the weekend newspaper. Whenever a holiday looms, it’s inevitable that the columnists will write about it. Ironically, only one of the local columnists dared to use the I-word to describe the coming holiday. Leah Lehman saved it for the end of her column, but here’s what she said:

“In today’s world, the Fourth of July time is more of a long weekend off, to do what they want — camping, spending time on the water, traveling. I wish them all a safe and healthy weekend.

“However, I will be sure to honor the reason there is this season at all, and vacation is far from that reason. Instead of calling it Fourth of July, I will call it Independence Day.”

The Fourth of July is a day on a calendar. Independence Day is a holiday.

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