Independence Day doesn’t evoke the solemnity of Memorial or Veterans Day. Yes to parades, yes to fireworks, no to sober reflection. But reflection (sober or otherwise) informs civic life.
There may be a need for a July 4 version of the first questions at Passover Seder: Why is today different from all other days?
In the 18th century, independence was a radical notion, and the Declaration of Independence radiates the foundational value of self-determination. Thomas Jefferson’s language reads like a form of civic scripture.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Gordon Wood’s 1993 masterpiece, “The Radicalism of the American Revolution,” remains the best capsule on the declaration and the battle for independence. Life in the colonies didn’t comport with England’s hierarchical, undemocratic example. America gave expression to a new design for governing based on the rights and dignity of the individual. In a world predicated on privilege, rank and servitude, a country centered on equality was unprecedented. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Today we’d use “humans” in place of man, and slavery was the great unspoken.)
The United States is a very young country, a reality magnified in the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Professor Brewster Denny, father of the Evans School of Public Affairs, died June 22. Denny was the great-grandson of Arthur Denny who founded Seattle and the University of Washington (the Duwamish were the original inhabitants, but that’s another narrative altogether.) Denny knew his great-uncle Rolland who, as an infant, was part of the original Denny party that landed at Alki in 1851. The life of a city carried forth across two generations.
In Snohomish County, there are descendants of those who attended the 1874 Independence Day celebration in Lowell hosted by E.D. Smith and Martin Getchell. The county population hovered somewhere around 600. It was a nanosecond ago in history.
Nations evolve, ideas are permanent. We can’t forget that.