Independence Day as Battle Ground


One of the last acts Southern “redemption” in the Reconstruction Era was the so-called Hamburg Riot in South Carolina. It began on July 4, 1876 (Wikipedia Commons)

As historian Kevin Kruse notes in his recent piece at The Washington Post, the Fourth of July has always been a battleground.  Everyone with a cause to promote wants the American founding of their side.

Here is a taste of his piece “Partisans often try to claim July 4th as their own. It usually backfires.”

In the spring of 1970, revelations that President Richard Nixon had greatly expanded the Vietnam War with the invasion of Cambodia rocked America. Antiwar demonstrations shook the country, most famously with the killing of students by National Guardsmen who had been called out to end protests at Kent State and Jackson State.

Hoping to rally Nixon’s supporters, his allies announced plans for a giant “pro-America rally” on the Mall on the Fourth. “Honor America Day,” promoters announced, would be “the biggest celebration in America’s history.”

Plans called for Reverend Billy Graham to lead a religious service from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the morning, and then for Bob Hope to emcee an all-star program of music and comedy at the Washington Monument that evening. The entire extravaganza, Hope told reporters, would show the world that “Americans can put aside their differences and rally around the flag to show national unity.”

But instead, the celebration once again served to show how divided the country had become.

Read the rest here.

One thought on “Independence Day as Battle Ground

  1. Very interesting to link this report with your report of July 3, 2017, “From the Archives: The Rise of Evangelical America” and then reflect on the book Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals, by Benjamin Lynerd.
    I have interpreted Lynerd’s book as a report about what he calls America’s civil religion as an inevitable result of evangelical Christianity combining with allegiance to capitalism and small government.

    However, your report on the Great Awakening, Kruse’s reports here and in his book on the major role that big business played in shunting aside FDR’s New Deal and kick-starting a religious revival with the election of Eisenhower, along with your July 3, 2017, report on the rise of racism after Lyndon Johnson forced through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, produce a different picture.

    The concluding paragraph of Kruse’s WashPost essay is enlightening –
    “On these Independence Days, and others like them, Americans sought to advance divisive issues by tapping into the day’s ceremonies and celebrations of national unity.
    But efforts to harness the holiday rarely ended well.
    Instead of bringing the nation together, they only served to illustrate just how divided it had become –
    – or perhaps to remind us how divided it has always been.

    A complicated history we have – a history that is very much in motion, very much contested, especially so this very day. Whose voices will be heard? Whose voices will take dignified leadership for the future?


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