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Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Power of Five (13)—American Independence Days

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "The Power of Five"
One year ago on Round and Square (4 July 2012)—Endings: Mayberry R.I.P.
Two years ago on Round and Square (4 July 2011)—Flowers Bloom: Meeting Bloom
[a] Spectacular RF
Below, I list the Five American Independence Days

The RSQ Board of Cosmology reports that this was not nearly as easy as it looked, and gives warning that the seeming symmetry of fifty- and one hundred-year commemorations is an illusion. Sort of. We'll get back to those details later. 
[b] Knee-high 7/4 RF

For now, though, let's think about the very idea of "independence days." American school children would be forgiven (at least until they get to junior high school history classes) for thinking that all it takes is declaring one's independence...and that it pretty much works out from there. Happily ever after. Patriotic parades and a few firecrackers. Good stuff. 

Um, not so fast. 

A lot of stuff happened after that declaration, including a constitution (lightly revised), an actual war of independence, another serious war three decades later, and a conflagration that threatened to sever that threadbare union four score and five years after putting their ol' John Hancocks (literally and figuratively) on the document.
[c] Tubular RF

Yup, a lot of stuff. 

Through it all, Americans have celebrated that original, shaky alliance of visionaries in all sorts of ways, with regional twists and foods (and firepower) that both reflect their times and places...and fuel change. 

Oh, and lots of people dress funny. 

You see, some people who love history can't resist gussying themselves up in contemporary (in at least one underused sense of the term) garb. We have redcoats and turncoats, blue and gray, and maybe even red and black...and we haven't even gotten to the twentieth century yet. People dress up on the Fourth of July, they go to parades, and they barbecue to the crackling sound of fireworks. Some aging people (like me) grumble about kids these days making too much noise.
[d] Waving RF

And, if we're lucky, there is a lake view out our front window. It's always nice when that happens.

Another thing that very many people do on the Fourth of July is eat. Most of them, really. Although Independence Day cuisine varies considerably, our studies have shown that there is a startlingly disproportionate consumption of pork parts encased in various wrappings. Why this is associated strongly with Independence Day (and American baseball parks) is too long and circuitous a(n) historical story for us to consider here. We'll just leave it with this thought—onions and mustard goes with your Fourth of July lunch in ways that few other midday repasts all year can match.
[e] Celebration RF

Now let's be (more) serious for a moment. While this is primarily a birthday celebration, of sorts—full of festivities and good feelings—it is difficult not to be aware of the prices many Americans have paid for all of us to enjoy tube steaks, bright sparkles, and loud noises. A few of our Five Independence Days speak right to that. Of those, it is hard to beat 1863 for poignancy and 1945 for ambivalence—VE joy meshed with pre-VJ worry.

In other words, it's not all fun and games. Certain years show that more clearly than others, and this list speaks to that theme.

***  ***
So, of all the 238 historical dates from which we could choose (including today), these are the five. Together, they represent are the totality

Remember, if you think that this is a "top-five" list, such as you read on Yahoo, you are very badly mistaken. No, these are totality.

Got that? It isn't "The Best of..." It is totality. These five are "American Independence Days."

If that doesn't make sense...go back and read the introduction and the links!
[e] Way back RF

The Five (American) Independence Days
(feel free to click the links) 
July 4, 1776
July 4, 1826
July 4, 1863
July 4, 1876
July 4, 1945

Honorable Mention**
July 4, 1918
July 4,1976
July 4, 2002 
July 4, 2013
May 17, 2014
** The RSQ board will occasionally make use of the "honorable mention" opportunity to throw in a few more things to think about. The Honorable Mentions have a little bit of history and culture to consider. The RSQ Board has its reasons.

A brief (sort-of) explanation. 
OK, the first one should be clear as can be. Without TJ and JH (and a whole passel of others) you wouldn't be chomping chips and sipping brew. Their very seriousness (and, let's be clear, courage) have led to the strange concatenation of memory and gluttony that marks every July 4th. 1826 was big. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the very (fiftieth) anniversary of the founding. 
[f] Cosmological RF

Although they had their scuffles a quarter-century earlier, they admired each other. Jefferson's last words were "Is this the fourth?" Adams struck right to the point: "Thomas Jefferson still survives." I have always wanted to believe that the Liberty Bell cracked tolling their deaths (but Chief Justice John Marshall, nine years later, is a pretty good substitute).

Perhaps the most powerful and poignant Independence Day of all (then and now) was 1863, when the dusts from Gettysburg had not even begun to settle and Vicksburg was surrendered to a guy named Ulysses S. Grant. Of course, news would take hours-to-days-to-weeks to travel across vast landscapes. 1876 provides a real contrast—a postbellum reintroduction to the world as a growing power (with the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition as its centered star). Finally, it's hard to beat 1945 for emotional fray. One war was over; another threatened to go on and on. 

The Honorable Mentions share many of these traits, with the final one being a tribute to one of America's many ethnic groups. It is the only one that eats lutefisk instead of hot dogs. 

'nuf said. The cosmologists have the last word. 
[g] Last word RF



    1976: John Wayne opens America's biggest gun museum in the Rodeo Capital of America.

  2. Hilarious. Now that's a great moment in American history...