Trump Wants to Cancel the 4th of July and Replace it With the 8th of November

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Just kidding.  I think the kids call this “clickbait.”

But I wouldn’t put it past Trump to do something like this.  After all, he has said numerous times that the greatest presidential in American history took place on November 8, 2016.

Actually, Trump will be making changes to the traditional Washington D.C. July 4th celebration.  Here is a taste of some reporting from the Washington Post:

President Trump has effectively taken charge of the nation’s premier Fourth of July celebration in Washington, moving the gargantuan fireworks display from its usual spot on the Mall to be closer to the Potomac River and making tentative plans to address the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, according to top administration officials.

 The president’s starring role has the potential to turn what has long been a nonpartisan celebration of the nation’s founding into another version of a Trump campaign rally. Officials said it is unclear how much the changes may cost, but the plans have already raised alarms among city officials and some lawmakers about the potential impact of such major alterations to a time-honored and well-organized summer tradition.

Fireworks on the Mall, which the National Park Service has orchestrated for more than half a century, draw hundreds of thousands of Americans annually and mark one of the highlights of the city’s tourist season. The event has been broadcast live on television since 1947 and since 1981 has been accompanied by a free concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol featuring high-profile musicians and a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra.

Read the rest here.

 Some quick thoughts:

  1.  I think I will watch the Boston Pops on PBS this year.
  2.  Will there be more people in Washington D.C. on July 4th than were present at Obama’s inauguration?  I am sure Trump will be keeping an eye on this.  Also expect him to exaggerate the number who WILL show up.
  3. From a historical perspective, the most audacious and ironic part of this new plan is that Trump will give an address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  4. Trump clearly wants to make this event about him.  He is hijacking the most sacred day on the calendar of American civil religion for a campaign speech.
  5. Trump has now turned Independence Day into a day of national disunity.  I have no doubt that he will give a campaign-style speech that will drive another wedge into our already divided country.  If Trump really cares about national unity and patriotism he should stay home.  He has already forfeited the right to speak on behalf of “we the people.”

*Christianity Today*: America is a “Great and Terrible Nation”

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Mark Galli, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, makes it abundantly clear that America was not founded as a Christian nation.  Here is a taste of his July 4th editorial:

The point is this: Can we in any way, shape, or form say that America was founded on Christian principles when its very existence and prosperity were set on a foundation of unimaginable cruelty to millions of other human beings?

This is not to say that America has practiced unparalleled evil in world history. Every nation has sins it needs to repent of. The irony of American history is that a nation founded on subjugation and cruelty nonetheless became a land of freedom and opportunity for millions. It has been and continues to be a beacon of light for refugees across the world. Our economic and justice systems, for all their flaws, make it possible for people to prosper in ways unimaginable in most of the world today. And yes, a few prophetic Christians in their day spoke up about the injustices perpetrated on Native Americans and blacks. And nearly all Americans today deeply regret how we have treated Native Americans, blacks, Chinese, Japanese, and a host of other ethnic and cultural minorities in the past, and most of us rightly continue to deplore injustice in any form—whether it be toward ethnic and racial minorities or (to name one especially grievous injustice) developing children killed before birth.

In short, the United States is a nation like all others, in some ways blessed by God, in some ways standing under God’s judgment. And so it shall be until the Lord returns.

On this and every Independence Day, we can thank God for the many blessings we enjoy, undeserved as they are. We can also repent of the ways we have denied the very values we proclaim in our founding documents and in our Pledge of Allegiance, in which we hold out the ideal of a nation that practices “liberty and justice for all.”

Read the entire piece here.

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

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Ben Railton has a nice reflection on Frederick Douglass’s famous speech.  Here is a taste of his post at American Studies blog:

I’ve written many times, in this space and elsewhere, about the inspiring history of Elizabeth Freeman, Quock Walker, and their Revolutionary-era peers and allies. Freeman, Walker, their fellow Massachusetts slaves, and the abolitionist activists with whom they worked used the language and ideas of the Declaration of Independence and 1780 Massachusetts Constitution in support of their anti-slavery petitions and court cases, and in so doing contributed significantly to the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more inspiring application of our national ideals, or of a more compelling example of my argument (made in the second hyperlinked piece above) that black history is American history. Yet at the same time, it would be disingenuous in the extreme for me to claim that Freeman’s and Walker’s cases were representative ones, either in their era or at any time in the two and a half centuries of American slavery; nor I would I want to use Freeman’s and Walker’s successful legal actions as evidence that the Declaration’s “All men are created equal” sentiment did not in a slaveholding nation include a central strain of hypocrisy.

If I ever need reminding of that foundational American hypocrisy, I can turn to one of our most fiery texts: Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass’s speech is long and multi-layered, and I don’t want to reduce its historical and social visions to any one moment; but I would argue that it builds with particular power to this passage, one of the most trenchant in American oration and writing: “Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?”

Read the entire post here.

Did Your Church Have Patriotic Worship on Sunday?

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Did your church have a patriotic service yesterday?  Did you sing any patriotic songs?  My church did not.  I came in a few minutes late, but I don’t think the 4th of July was ever mentioned.  This does not mean that the leaders of my church are unpatriotic.  It means that they probably realize it is a bad idea to mix civil religion in the form of patriotic celebrations with Christian worship.

Over at The Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein has a nice piece on the debate over whether to bring patriotism into church.  The piece quotes my recent History News Network piece on the topic.

Here is a taste:

In 2016, LifeWay Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, found that 61 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that it was “important for July Fourth worship services to incorporate patriotic elements to celebrate America. Fifty-three percent of pastors in that survey agreed that their congregation “sometimes seems to love America more than God.”

The context of 2018 may be new — rapidly changing religious and racial demographics in the United States, growing secularism, the explosion of Web-based faith — but debates about how churches handle July 4 began surfacing early in American history.

Catherine Brekus, a Harvard University historian of U.S. religion, noted that in the early 1800s, Methodists opposed Fourth of July celebrations on the grounds that they were not Christian. By the 1850s in Cleveland, Protestant ministers “usually took the lead in organizing 4th of July activities, and speeches were given in churches. After the 1850’s, ministers still gave benedictions, but the ceremonies were usually held outdoors, and commercial leaders and businesses were prominently involved,” she wrote in an email, noting historical accounts.

John Fea, a U.S. historian from Messiah College who just published a book about Christian nationalism, wrote in June for the History News Network about why activities such as July 4 services are being debated anew:

“Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished their perceived status as God’s new Israel — His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God,” he wrote. Today, the anxiety about how to be Christian and American is high because history is being reexamined.

“The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made.”

Read the entire piece here.

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

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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.

 

Catholics and Patriotic Worship

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Apparently it is not just evangelicals who have a problem with patriotic worship services.  This weekend a priest was quite surprised when a patriotic song was played during the communion mediation at mass.

Here is a taste of Father James Martin’s America magazine piece “Should we sing patriotic songs at Mass?  Probably not”:

Yesterday I heard an excellent homily at Mass. The Gospel reading (Mt 10:37-42) had Jesus telling his followers, with the uncompromising language he often used, that nothing comes before God. God comes first, and everything else is secondary—even the love for a mother and a father. In a line that undoubtedly shocked listeners in first-century Palestine and still has the power to shock, he said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

As the homilist told the congregation this Sunday, everything must be subordinated to God. Agreed.

That is why it was so jarring to hear the Communion meditation just a few minutes later. It was a song, which I had not heard before, in which the singer pledged her heart to America. Not to Jesus but to the United States of America.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. It was the Sunday before the Fourth of July, and I have come to expect patriotic songs in Catholic churches in the United States, around that time of year, as well as around Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

But it was hard not to think: Isn’t this the opposite of what Jesus said in the Gospel? Surely we should all be good Americans and love and honor our country. But especially during the Mass, shouldn’t our hearts be pledged to something, or someone else?

Read the rest here.

“Fresh Takes” on the Declaration of Independence

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Harvard’s Declaration Resources Project asked some high-powered historians to re-read the text of the first printing (Dunlap broadside) of the Declaration of Independence and write a short response.  They are good.

Contributors include Zara Anashanslin, Johann Neem, Peter Onuf, Robert Parkinson, Alejandra Dubcovsky, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Steven Pincus, Kathleen DuVal, Caitlin Fitz, Sara Georgini, Andrew Shocket, and Annette Gordon-Reed

See their quotes here.

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A July 4th (and beyond) Reading and Listening List

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Check out this very nice collection from Cara Burnidge at Religion in American History.   Here are a few of her suggestions:

Declaration of Independence

Frederick Douglass, “What To The Slave Is the Fourth of July? ” (1841), Black Perspectives

Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, 1848

Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” (1883); Steve Macone, “The New ‘New Colossus‘” (2017)

Irvin Berlin “God Bless America” (1918; 1938); performed by Kate Smith 

Langston Hughes, “I, Too, Sing America,” 1926 [poem only]; with analysis from Smithsonian historian David Ward

Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again” [with images]; [read by James Earl Jones]

Allen Ginsberg, “America” (1956; performed ?)

Read the rest here.

Was the Declaration of Independence a “Plea for Help?”

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This is the title of Ishaan Tharoor‘s Washington Post interview with historian Larrie Ferrerio, author of the recent Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It.  (Check out my review of this book at Education and Culture).

The idea of the Declaration of Independence as a “plea for help” will not sit well with many Americans today, especially on the Fourth  of July, but this does not make it any less true.  I explored this issue a bit in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction?.  Here is an excerpt:

Most would agree that the Declaration of Independence was not a theological or religious documents, but neither was it designed predominantly to teach Americans and the world about human rights.  Americans have become so taken by the second paragraph of the document that they miss the purpose of the Declaration as understood by the Continental Congress, its team of authors, and its chief writer, Thomas Jefferson.  In the context of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence was just what it claimed to be–a “declaration” of “independence” from England and an assertion of American sovereignty in the world.Revised

Historian David Armitage has argued convincingly that the Declaration of Independence was written primarily as a document asserting American political sovereignty in the hopes that the newly created United States would secure a place in the international community of nations.  In fact, Armitage asserts, the Declaration was discussed abroad more than it was at home.  This meant that the Declaration was “decidedly un-revolutionary.  It would affirm the maxims of European statecraft, not affront them.”  To put this differently, the “self-evident truths” and “unalienable rights” of the Declaration’s second paragraph would not have been particularly new or groundbreaking in the context of the eighteenth-century British world.  These were ideals that all members of the British Empire values regardless of whether they supported or opposed the American Revolution.  The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the members of the Second Continental Congress who endorsed and signed it did not believe that they were advancing, as historian Pauline Maier has put it, “a classic statement of American political principles.”  This was a foreign policy document.

The writers of the Declaration viewed the document this way.  In an 1825 letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson explained his motivation behind writing it:

“when forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our jurisdiction.  This was the object of the Declaration of Independence.  Not to find out new principles or new arguments, never before thought of…but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

John Adams, writing five years after he signed it, called the Declaration “that memorable Act by which [the United States] assumed an equal Station among the nation.”  Adams’s son, John Quincy, though not a participant in the Continental Congress, described the Declaration as “merely an occasional state paper. It was a solemn exposition to the world of the causes which had compelled the people of a small portion of the British empire, to cast off their allegiance and renounce the protection of the British king: and to resolve their social connection with the British people.”  There is little in these statements to suggest that the Declaration of Independence was anything other than an announcement to the world that the former British colonies were now free and independent states and thus deserved a place in the international order of nations.”

Here is Ferreiro:

We typically look at the Declaration of Independence as a document written to King George III by the American people, stating why we wanted to become an independent nation. That’s what we tell each other when we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Brothers in ArmsBut when you look at what happened in 1776, it was clear George III had already got the memo that the Americans wanted to be independent. And when you look at the writing of the Founding Fathers, they make it very clear that they knew they could not fight Britain by themselves. They knew that the only countries that had the motivation and the military and naval capabilities to defeat Britain were France and Spain. And the only way they could join on the Americans’ side was if they knew this was not simply a battle of colonists with their mother country to get a better deal. They only would come to our aid if they saw that we were fighting as a sovereign, independent nation against a common adversary.

The Declaration was specifically written for that purpose, and both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson said this — they were quite clear in their writings. Thomas Jefferson took those ideas and made a document for the ages, a truly enlightened document that read out many of the ideas of the time on what constitutes the rights of the state and the people. But at the core it was a cry for help. The first considered action by Congress after the Declaration was approved was to put it on a ship so it could reach the courts of France and Spain.

Read the rest of the interview here.