If you’ve paid attention to the U.S. calendar of official holidays, then you’ve noticed some holidays are fixed, like Christmas, which is always Dec 25. You are also aware others are flexible as to which date they fall upon. Memorial Day falls on the last Monday in May, and Labor Day falls on the first Monday in September. And it’s no coincidence Washington’s birthday and Columbus Day fall on Mondays. This is not happenstance. Those three-day holidays were created by a sleight of hand by Congress.
In 1968, Congress relegislated history with the passage of the Uniform Holiday Act. This moved many holidays to the closest Monday. Their rationale was to give us more time to celebrate.
The initial legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Robert McClory of Illinois included the resetting of Independence Day to fall on the first Monday in July. He argued since nobody has ever determined the precise date when the Declaration of Independence was completed by our founders, this would be a logical move. He said historians also debated when our Founders announced it to the colonies. Since they could not agree to agree on July 2 or 4, it made little difference if Congress agreed to this change.
That brainstorm went over like giving a progressive a copy of the Constitution for his birthday.
As the bill segued from one committee to another, it went smoothly until the issue arose of moving the day we celebrate our independence from the Fourth of July to any other day of the year. Veterans groups, the Daughters of Liberty and others petitioned the committees to leave Independence Day alone.
Clergymen and women showed up at the doorsteps of congressional offices to protest changing the date we celebrate our independence. They said that since so many people came to church on that special day to thank the Almighty for the blessings of America, it would hurt attendance. Schoolchildren wrote letters pleading with Congress not to diminish the importance of the Fourth of July.
McClory claimed his goal was to align federal holidays with weekends so federal workers and private businesses could enjoy more productive vacation time instead of getting oddball days off in the middle of the week. But his logic was tainted when his true motives were revealed. This was being driven by commercial interests and nothing more. Travel organizations had been pushing for three-day weekends for years. Private and federal unions were now lobbying hard for this since it meant more time off for them. And for some, it was an opportunity to get some days off they didn’t get before.
While everyone agreed some of these three-day weekends were acceptable, strong opposition to tamper with Independence Day continued. A member of the Sons of Liberty told Congress: “This disrespect for the greatest day in world history is just trading reverence for recreation.”
As more patriots came forward and expressed their concerns of being distanced from a day they cherished more than any other in our history, the bill was amended to exclude Independence Day. And respect for the Fourth of July won out over Congress.
Although many of the federal holidays can be celebrated respectfully on alternative days, July 4, 1776, is not only the most important day in American history, it is the most important day in world history. The Declaration of Independence created the United States of America and announced to the world America was assuming ownership of all natural and God-given rights for its nation. It stated all governments everywhere derived their powers from the consent of the people, and when a government became destructive of the people’s rights and liberties, the people could alter or abolish it and form a new one. That’s why the day we declared independence from the crown stands taller than any day in history.
The Declaration infused what we have come to believe and value into our culture; a culture that influenced us to share our freedom with the world as its great protectorate. Our highest aspirations and noble ideals, our beliefs in liberty, equality and human rights, came from this uniquely crafted document.
The spirit of our Declaration has been recertified in the reform movements that made positive changes in America. It inspired the abolitionists of the 1830s, the feminists in 1848 and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It has served as inspiration for colonial rebellions against tyranny worldwide to justify their cause in Poland, Vietnam, China and the Arab Spring.
The words of the Declaration are the core of our nationhood. Since America was a place for those from different races, creeds, colors and ethnicities, we were a country composed of immigrants and we had to assume a collective identity to bond into a nation. Our country was invented. Members of the Continental Congress could only pledge to each other their lives, their beliefs and promises for opportunity to bring us a government that would honor the pledges they made. They had nothing but each other to ensure these promises were kept in forming our nation. They had to create a new nationality of immigrants to create a country. And much of our history has been an effort to refine it.
According to Boston historians, the Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2, 1776. There is debate if it was signed on the July 3 or 4, but John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, the day after the vote depicting his impressions of the greatness of the Declaration. He spoke of how it will be celebrated by “Succeeding Generations” as a “Great Anniversary Festival.” He called it our “Day of Deliverance,” a “day we should entertain “Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” One we must honor with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires” around America.
Unfortunately, Independence Day no longer entertains the decorum Adams hoped it would. Yes, we have parades, fireworks and celebrations, but much of the meaning of these festivities seems to have slipped away from us. It’s unforgiving we should ever forget …”July 4th is America’s birthday!”
More than any other document in American history, the Declaration has embodied the ideals and principles of freedom and liberty our founders bequeathed to us in its sacred text, on July 4, 1776. We must be forever grateful for those who stood up and reminded Congress of the importance of respecting America’s birthday by not moving it to a more convenient day on the calendar for the sake of unions and the travel industry.
There is no greater disrespect in the entire world than to not honor your country on the very day that it was born.
William Haupt III is contributing columnist to Watchdog.org. He is a retired professional journalist, author and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years.
A version of this Op-Ed previously appeared on Watchdog.org under the headline “Op-Ed: Independence Day is not an act of Congress.”
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