July 4 Ramblings

I’m a day late here, but some observations about the Fourth of July are in order, especially since this one ended in a zero (240, for those of you keeping score at home). One of the surprising coincidences of the date is that two of the early heroes of the republic, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died not only on Independence Day but on the same one, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary. You really couldn’t make this stuff up. As it happens, they died on the 22nd birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who really is an outstanding candidate to be born on the Fourth of July.

And under the heading of no coincidences here, Walt Whitman published first edition of his great hymn of liberty, Leaves of Grass, on the great day in 1855. If, long after we vanish, someone wants to know about the American character, the American voice (what he called his “barbaric yawp”), they could do no better than to ignore everything else and read that poem. Like the poet, it is vast; it contains multitudes. Whitman’s maneuverings to publish his poem on the holiday equal those of James Joyce to publish Ulysses on his fortieth birthday. And why not? It’s the perfect date for such an appearance.

Finally, twenty-eight years ago, National Public Radio began its own tradition of presenting the entire Declaration of Independence read by the anchors, reporters, and commentators. Those early years had great voices–Red Barber, John Ciardi, Kim Williams, along with Susan Stamberg and Bob Edwards, among others. Of those, only Stamberg appears on this year’s installment. The result is always incredibly moving; at least, it is to me. Here’s a link to the current model: http://www.npr.org/2016/07/04/483757766/the-declaration-of-independence-240-years-later. At the end of those early readings, co-host Bob Edwards always noted that King George wrote in his diary that “Nothing of any importance happened today.” Feel free to insert your own response noises.

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