It’s Writers And Editors Who Are Most Honored On July 4th…Really! (a Redux)

Given my knee-deepness in cranking out novel #3, my blog has, once again, been sadly neglected. So this “oldie but goodie” 4th of July post, a favorite of mine, stands in as a worthy re-share for the holiday. Enjoy and celebrate!

Flag Waver_by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Teacher: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?”

Student: “On the bottom.”
From Top Ten Fourth of July Jokes For Kids

As a writer, a grammarian of sorts, and certainly someone who edits and fine-tunes everything I write within an inch of its life, the 4th of July holds special meaning to me. Which may seem surprising. Why, you may ask, does this most iconic of American holidays, one celebrated with parades, picnics, flags and fireworks in honor of our country’s glorious state of independence, resonate with a writer and editor? Simple: the day is a celebration, of sorts, of our most noble profession.

Don’t believe me? If you do even the most cursory research on exactly why we’ve come to celebrate this exact date, what you’ll likely find is a myriad of hazily similar but often inaccurate facts, with at least one that’s indisputable: what actually happened on the fourth day of July in 1776:

It was the day the writers and editors of the document finally gave a thumbs-up to the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

It wasn’t signed that day, it wasn’t declared as law that day; it was simply (or not so simply!) the day it passed muster with a fierce group of literary and legal minds who understood its importance and wanted to be certain every word, every pause, every piece of punctuation was exactly as intended. Historical website,, confirms that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress – after much editing, tweaking, and rewriting of previous drafts – finally approved what would be the ultimate, accepted verbiage of this momentous document. And while certainly those of us who traffic in our own versions of such literary activities find the accomplishment meritorious of a firework or two, it was not widely seen at the time as worthy of celebration. In fact, it was a frustrated John Adams who stepped up years later to pop the day into the cultural zeitgeist. Well, maybe not the day itself, but the celebration of the day. And maybe he didn’t exactly pop it, but he did have something to do with kicking it into gear.

That celebrating the 4th needed to be kicked into gear is not all that surprising once you’re aware that the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that auspicious and momentous occasion memorialized by countless fine art paintings and stentorian expressions of oratory, actually occurred on August 2nd of 1776. Almost a month later. So how, you ask, did “July 4, 1776” come to be the “day of American independence”?

Likely in honor of those writers and editors who fine-tuned the document into its final form. The date “July 4, 1776” was affixed to the original handwritten copy they completed that was then signed by our most celebrated of Founding Fathers on August 2,1776, the copy that now hangs in the National Archive in Washington, D.C. The date “July 4, 1776” was also printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the “original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation.” For those two obvious reasons, July 4, 1776 became the official date attributed to our Declaration of Independence.

And, really, after all these years and all our “4th of July” celebrations, doesn’t “the 2nd of August” just sound feeble?

But still, no attendant celebrations occurred until many years after 1776, the country and its citizens far too distracted by the demands of burgeoning democracy to party down at the time. It seems, much like today, that partisan divides between the various political factions were fierce and unrelenting, and much of the rancor had to do with the Declaration itself. Some, the Democratic-Republicans (can you imagine a party actually combining those two disparate political assignations?), supported Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration; the Federalists on the other side thought it was a bunch of pro-French/anti-British hooey. The only things missing from this colonial melee were cable news and blowharding talk show hosts!

And with that political rumble as a backdrop, as well as the War of 1812 to contend with, who had time to think about fireworks? At least the pretty kind that blew up in the sky? But despite these many distractions, the date was an important marker for the aforementioned – and very outspoken – John Adams. In 1817, this Founding Father and well-known letter-writer is said to have written a missive expressing his frustration that, by ignoring the  momentousness of its historical milestones, America seemed “uninterested in its past.” The complaint apparently struck a chord:

As post-1812 War politics shifted, the “anti-Declaration” Federalists spun into disarray and by the 1820s and 1830s, the political parties that evolved from this seismic shift came to agree on at least one thing: that all Americans were “inheritors” of what Jefferson and his party had wrought: the glorious Declaration of Independence. National pride spiked, copies went flying around the nation as evidence of America’s greatness (all dated, as noted earlier, with “July 4, 1776”), and attitudes about the date and the importance of its celebration changed. Particularly when, in what can only be seen as a confluence of epic and cosmic perfection, both men so instrumental in establishing this profound document – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826, forever anointing the date as one of monumental significance to the United States of America.

So between his signing of the Declaration, his grumbling letter of 1817, and his eerily well-timed denouement (giving Jefferson a nod for the same!), John Adams more than played his part in helping define this day as worthy of celebration. It took Congress almost 100 years after the initial signing to codify the date into American culture, but it was declared in 1870 that the “4th of July” was, indeed, and would always be, a national holiday.

Which in every community in America translates to warm, neighborly activities, the excitement of children waving sparklers against a star-lit sky, wonderful food shared with friends and family, fireworks to “ooh” and “ahh” over, and, of most importance, the sense of enduring community and national pride based on ideals – and a very well-written and edited document – of stellar and unassailable grandeur.

John Adams would be smiling. Certainly writers and editors across the land are!

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Flag Waving and Other American Pastimes

– 4th of July 1888_by Neil Boyle

We clearly hadn’t thought it out…

We were headed to a 4th of July parade with an enthusiastic youngster riding high on holiday excitement. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we were all looking forward to the revelry of red, white, and blue. As said youngster took note of the countless American flags flapping in doorways, waving from passing cars, or clutched in the hands of other like-minded kids, his eyes lit up. It was the 4th of July and he had to have a flag.

Why we hadn’t anticipated that probability, or at least thought of it earlier, say, before every store within a 50-mile radius was all out, was inexplicable. I hate to say we’re bad parents, but come ON! Still, foresight be damned, it was Independence Day and that bubbling little patriot was getting’ a flag!

We must have hit every party, grocery, and CVS store in Claremont, CA, the town hosting the events of the day, and there was not a single star or strip to be found. And just as we were about to endure a full-blown “I don’t have a flaaaag!” meltdown, the friends we joined at the parade miraculously snagged an unclaimed (albeit small and plastic) flag, and fireworks of the not pretty, popping kind were preempted.

My point is: people love their flags. They love ’em. They love to hang them in doorways, march with them down streets; wave them as symbols of pride, alliance, and attachment. America has, in fact, been cranking out some version of the American flag since 1775 and, in looking over some of the earlier contenders, it’s good we didn’t settle too quickly on a design: this one here with the stripes and snake on which we were not to tread lacked, I think, artistic gravitas. But surely our current flag is a worthy choice, a stately symbol redolent of so much history and national passion.

Which brings to mind certain cultural events of late, brouhahas centered around the topic of flags. Interesting that, shortly before our most patriotic and all-American holiday, we’d be widely, and wildly, debating other flags that hold great meaning—good and bad—for our eclectic and often polarized citizenry.

I don’t think anyone could deny that the Confederate flag incites tremendous emotion, both from those who believe it’s a symbol of racism and national disdain, and others who insist, “it’s heritage and not hate,” as Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd remarked recently. And while that sentiment may be true for some southerners, it’s getting harder to accept the assessment, particularly since the “flag of Dixie” has been held high by some of the most heinous characters in history, as recently as the tragedy in Charleston, S.C.

In fact, even Patterson Hood, founder of another proud southern band, The Drive-By Truckers, asserted this about the flag known as the “Stainless Banner”:

“I’m from Alabama,” says Patterson Hood, “I lived in the South my entire life. I have ancestors who fought in that ill-begotten war, but it’s way, way past time to move on … That [Civil] War was what, 150 years ago? It’s time to move on. It should have been a moot point years ago. The flag represents an act of war against the United States.

“The flag was put there to antagonize and intimidate,” he says, about its initial erection over the Capital. “During the Civil Rights era, Southern states started flying those flags and putting the logo on their state flags to remind black people what they thought their place was. It was just that simple…

“People say ‘The South will rise again,’ Hood says. “The South will never rise again as long as we keep our heads up our asses. I feel very strongly about it. I’m from Alabama. I lived in the South my entire life. I have ancestors who fought in that ill-begotten war, but it’s way, way past time to move on.”

Which makes sense to me. When some in this country talk about “taking back America,” demanding a “national language,” or bemoaning the “denigration” of the country by illegal immigration, how illogical is it, then, to defend a flag representative of so much pain and national antipathy? Particularly at a time when Americans of all stripes are (or should be) looking to bridge chasms, not create them.

There’s another flag that’s been waving around lately as well, one held high by those in our country fighting for equal rights for all: the Rainbow flag. Surely you’ve seen it. It’s the colorful symbol of gender and orientation diversity. No one near any kind of media these past weeks could have missed the wildly polar response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on constitutionally protected marriage equality. It was telling to watch the viral sharing of images showing the Confederate flag coming down as the Rainbow flag rose high. Wherever one stands on these issues, it can’t be denied that, yet again, it’s a flag that holds the symbology of so much passion and belief.

Which gets us back to the 4th of July: kids and flags; mom, dad, and apple pie; stalwart patriotism, and all things American. Each of these iconic concepts stirs warmth and nostalgia; optimism and hope, particularly as we look to strike a balance as individuals, stalwart in our beliefs, who also allow others to experience their own lives with dignity and respect. When I think of true American ideals, that’s where my mind goes.

Flag Waver_by Lorraine Devon Wilke
Flag Waver_by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Our 4th of July will be spent with family in the bucolic surrounds of Ferndale (whose downtown looks very much like the iconic Neil Boyle illustration at top!). Our daughter, who hasn’t been able to get up here in recent years, is visiting with her two children. They’re excited to partake of of the many Humboldtian wonders, particularly highpoints we’ve identified in and around Ferndale (i.e., feeding grass to kindly horses and getting rides on a local fire engine). We’ll gather at our beloved home, raise a glass to family and community, raise eyes to the wonder of sparklers and fireworks, and hold hope that we can continue to raise awareness in the evolving country we all celebrate on this holiday.

I think the American flag has the spirit, the history, and the heart to be a proud standard for everyone moving toward that noble goal.

“Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.” — Supreme Court Justice Robert J. Jackson, 1943

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Original version published July 2, 2015 @ the Ferndale Enterprise

The illustration at the top, “4th of July, 1888” by Neil Boyle, is one of the many iconic and incredibly beautiful pieces of Boyle’s illustrating the book, Notes From Abe Brown’s Diary by Tom E. Knowlton. I was delighted to be gifted five limited prints from that collection by Boyle’s daughter, Kay Jackson, who has become a friend since we connected over an article of mine called Neil Boyle, Molly Malone’s and Pretty in Pink. I am honored to have both her friendship and her father’s prints, all of which now beautifully hang in our Ferndale home.

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