The Politicization of July 4th is as Old as the Republic

Trump 4th

Is Trump politicizing Independence Day with his military parade and “Salute to America” speech?  Of course he is.  And, as historian Shira Lurie reminds us, this practice dates back to the country’s founding.  Here is a taste of her Washington Post piece, “Why Democrats are wrong about Trump’s politicization of the Fourth of July“:

In the hours after The Washington Post broke the news, Democrats pounced on Trump for politicizing the national holiday. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) denounced the president for “injecting partisan politics into the most nonpartisan sacred American holiday there is.” Three prominent congressional Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), wrote a letter to the president describing the Fourth as a “nonpartisan and apolitical” day. “It is, therefore, unfortunate that you are considering a conflicting event, which would create the appearance of a televised, partisan campaign rally on the Mall at the public expense.”

But these claims are wrong. The Fourth has never been apolitical or nonpartisan. Americans have always used Independence Day to disguise political messaging in the cloak of patriotism. And often, these messages have contained the divisiveness and acrimony we have come to associate with Trump.

Politicization of the Fourth of July began even before the United States was a country. During the War of Independence, officials used the anniversary of Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence as an opportunity to bolster anti-British sentiment. They rallied support for the Patriots’ cause with toasts, orations, militia drills and fireworks. In the postwar years, the day transformed into a civics lesson, with Americans extolling the benefits of republican government and, later, the Constitution.

As soon as political parties developed in the 1790s, partisans began capitalizing on the nation’s birthday as well. Local leaders hosted rival Fourth of July celebrations and positioned their parties as the “true” inheritors of the American Revolution’s legacy. Occasionally they came to blows as each side vied for control over the crowds and public spaces in their communities.

Read the rest here.

The National Park Service is Diverting Millions to Help Pay for Trump’s July 4th Campaign Rally

tank+in+dc

According to Washington Post report, $2.5 million “intended to improve parks across the country” will be diverted to cover the costs of Trump’s Independence Day celebration on the Washington D.C. Mall.

Here is a taste of the Post reporting:

The National Park Service is diverting nearly $2.5 million in entrance and recreation fees primarily intended to improve parks across the country to cover costs associated with President Trump’s Independence Day celebration Thursday on the Mall, according to two individuals familiar with the arrangement.

Trump administration officials have consistently refused to say how much taxpayers will have to pay for the expanded celebration on the Mall this year, which the president has dubbed the “Salute to America.” The two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed the transfer of the Park Service funds Tuesday.

The diverted park fees represent just a fraction of the extra costs the government faces as a result of the event, which will include displays of military hardware, flyovers by an array of jets including Air Force One, the deployment of tanks on the Mall and an extended pyrotechnics show. By comparison, according to former Park Service deputy director Denis P. Galvin, the entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million.

For Trump’s planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the White House is distributing VIP tickets to Republican donors and political appointees, prompting objections from Democratic lawmakers who argue that the president has turned the annual celebration into a campaign-like event.

The Republican National Committee and Trump’s reelection campaign confirmed Tuesday that they had received passes they were handing out for the event.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, environment and related agencies, said in a phone interview. “No ticketed political event should be paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

The White House referred questions about the celebration to the Interior Department, which declined to comment.

Read the rest here.

What Happens When You Tweet the Declaration of Independence in the Age of Trump?

This.

Apparently Trump supporters are worried the the “liberals” at National Public Radio are trying to foment a revolution by tweeting the words of the Declaration of Independence.

There are a lot of things to say here, but I will refrain for now.  It does seem clear that some of those upset with the words and phrases tweeted did not realize that these were the words of the Declaration of Independence or did not care to do the simple research that would confirm this.  As a historian and educator this worries me the most.

 

Happy Independence Day

july_2nd

I wanted to get this post up before midnight. Why?  Because July 2, 1776 is the actual day that the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain.  July 4th, as historian Joseph Ellis points out in today’ Los Angeles Times, is the day Congress sent the Declaration of Independence to the printer.

Ellis explains:

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote two letters to his beloved Abigail exuberantly reporting that history had been made: One day earlier, the Continental Congress had voted to declare American independence from the British Empire. Henceforth, Adams predicted, July 2 would be celebrated by every generation with parades, speeches, songs and what he called “illuminations.” He got everything right, even the fireworks. But he got the date wrong.

Or perhaps we get the date wrong. The widespread assumption is that the Fourth of July is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, the actual moment the founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the Great Question of Independence.

The popular musical “1776” dramatically depicts a signing ceremony on the Fourth. And the iconic painting “Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull, a version of which hangs in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, is often captioned “July 4, 1776.”

But neither the musical nor the caption is historically correct. Trumbull’s picture depicts the moment on June 28 when the committee that drafted the declaration presented its work to John Hancock, chair of the Continental Congress. The play’s signing ceremony is theatrically compelling, but it never happened.

There was no singular moment when all the delegates signed the document. Most put pen to parchment on Aug. 4. (It had taken some time for the final draft to be “engrossed” — formally hand-copied.) Some signatures were added as late as November.

So why do we celebrate the Fourth? Because that is the day the declaration was sent to the printer, who then put that date on the top of the document, copies of which were distributed throughout the colonies and beyond. It became the date that readers then, and Americans ever since, recognized as the anniversary of American independence, even though nothing of historical significance actually occurred on that day.

By all rights, Adams’ choice, July 2, makes more sense. That was the day independence was officially decided and declared: “A Resolution was passed,” John told Abigail, “without one dissenting Colony ‘that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States….’ ” The revolutionary lightning struck at that moment, and the publication of the Declaration of Independence two days later was merely the thunderous aftermath, the sound following the fury.

Read the rest here.

CNN Report: "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?"

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Mark Edwards of Spring Arbor University has put together a roundtable of historians over at CNN.com to discuss this question 

I am happy to join Amanda Porterfield (Florida State), Steven Green (Willamette University), Kevin Kruse (Princeton University), and Ray Haberski (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis) in trying to make sense of this question.  It is quite a fitting discussion for Independence Day.

Here is my piece:

Such a question is inevitably asking a historian to take a debate which did not reach any degree of intensity until the 1980s and superimpose it on the 18th-century world of the men who built the American republic.
The Founding Fathers lived in a world that was fundamentally different from our own. It was a world in which there was largely only one religious game in town — Christianity.
Yes, there were some tiny Jewish communities located in seaport towns, and it is likely that a form of Islam was practiced among African slaves, but much of the culture was defined by the powerful influence of Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity.
The founders also had very divergent views about the relationship between Christianity and the nation they were forging. As I tell my students, we need to stop treating them as a monolithic whole.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were strong advocates for the complete separation of church and state. John Adams and George Washington believed that religion was essential to the cultivation of a virtuous citizenry, an essential trait of any successful republic.
It is true that the founders, by virtue of the fact that they signed the Declaration of Independence, probably believed in a God who presided over nature, was the author of human rights, would one day judge the dead and governed the world by his providence.
Those who signed the United States Constitution endorsed the idea that there should be no religious test — Christian or otherwise — required to hold federal office.
Those responsible for the First Amendment also championed the free exercise of religion and rejected a government-sponsored church.
Yet anyone who wants to use the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to argue against the importance of religion in the American founding must reckon with all those state constitutions — such as those of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and South Carolina — that require officeholders to affirm the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, obey the Christian Sabbath or contribute tax money to support a state church.
It is clear that some of the founders wanted only Christians to be running their state governments. Other founders rejected the idea of the separation of church and state. Virginia rejected all test oaths and religious establishments.
History is complex. It does not conform easily to the kinds of “yes” or “no” answers that most Americans want when they ask whether America was founded a Christian nation.
Here’s a better question: Is America a Christian nation now?
On this question there is a lot more evidence to sustain a “no” answer.