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The Great American Discovery

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Patriotism, declared Dr. Johnson is the last refuge of scoundrels. Abigail Adams said that women weren't very interested in patriotism since, in her time, they were "excluded from offices and honors."

Another Fourth of July is almost upon us, giving rise to contemporary musings on patriotism. Mrs. Adams's complaint is less justified than it was in 1782, the year she wrote it. Women have more offices, honors, and control over their own property than they did then - albeit they have not attained full social parity with men in some aspects of our national life.

Dr. Johnson's 18th-century declaration is still right. When caught at some outrage, the perpetrators, if it is appropriate, still frequently claim they were motivated by patriotism. Oliver North implied that he was serving some higher law when he participated in the Iran-contra business.

That's an interesting comment in terms of the Fourth of July. Technically, the day commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. We subsequently gained our independence, so July Fourth has special significance. More specifically, we gained our independence from Britain and then floundered around for awhile in a totally unworkable confederacy.

Finally the increasingly abrasive competition between the states, plus the symbolism of Shays's rebellion in western Massachusetts, inspired a small meeting at Annapolis to mediate in Virginia's and Maryland's tug of war over the Potomac River. That led to a grand convention at Philadelphia that chucked out the Articles of Confederation and produced the United States Constitution.

Fireworks in June or September?

It can be argued, therefore, that Independence Day should be celebrated in mid-September, when the 1787 constitutional convention completed its work - or on June 21, when the ninth state ratified the Constitution in 1788.

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