Waking this morning and walking across the Manhattan Bridge to the office, it was remarkable how quiet the city is. It is a particularly unique thing to have a peaceful day in New York City, so I'm savoring it and using it to bring back something we haven't done in years: wishing you a happy holiday.
When our sites began in 2004, we used to start an open thread after linking to some good thoughts by others on each national holiday. It was never a huge viral sensation, but that was not the reason it started. It started just to step back and observe our shared circumstance, and, in that way, reinforce our community here on the web.
On July 4th, 1826, the day of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away within hours of one another. Both had been presidents as well as founding fathers, and both had become close friends during their lives (their collected letters to one another over 50 years is a classic).
Jefferson was 83 and Adams 90. With their passing it was generally felt that the Revolutionary period was over.
In this morning's Washington Post there is a great article on Jefferson's last written letter to the Mayor of Washington in June of that year, thanking him for the invitation to the festivities and declining for health reasons. His writing is inspiring:
I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. that form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
Thomas Jefferson was both a great mind, who helped to shape the thoughts on which our country is founded and also a complicated man who was very much a product of his time. But it is his name that will always be associated the closest with this holiday for the work he put into writing the document on which is it based.
For more on this I also recommend reading today's Writer's Almanac, which is always good. Keillor always finds the humanity and the humor behind the scenes. It includes:
Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence; everyone else in the room thought he was the most eloquent and the best writer and he offered no dissent. It's said that John Hancock wrote his name in extra large script so that King George would be sure to see it; the king suffered from cataracts. Fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the document. One out of eight of them had gone to Harvard. Two would go on to become presidents of the United States.
The signing actually took place on July 2, not the 4th, and this fact always irked John Adams, who decided to protest the date of the new celebration by never, not once, attending a July Fourth celebration as long as he lived.
And even though he protested the event, John Adams wrote movingly to his wife, Abigail: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."
I hope you all have a celebratory and peaceful fourth of July and feel free to share your thoughts about what this day means to you.
Best, Maxwell Ryan
Founder of Apartment Therapy Media