EDITOR'S NOTE: The following editorial is reprinted (in modified form) from the July 4, 2010, Paducah Sun.
"My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!" - Thomas Jefferson
One could make the case that the Fourth of July should be the Second of July. That was the view of John Adams. The Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. July 4 was merely the day Congress voted to formally adopt the language of the Declaration of Independence.
Adams was a member of the small committee charged with drafting the declaration. The committee appointed his political rival, the florid Thomas Jefferson, to pen the document, while Adams led the pro-independence debate in Congress that culminated in the vote July 2.
On July 3, the day between the two that would radically alter the trajectory of history, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."
Adams was prescient - except for the date, of course. The celebrations today look exactly like Adams predicted 238 years ago. The parades, the games, the "bonfires and illuminations" - fireworks. And in churches across the country, when the Fourth falls on a Sunday, people of faith commemorate "the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty."
Adams' letter to his wife did not end with his prediction of holiday celebrations. He recognized that independence, though worth commemorating, would be won and preserved only at great cost:
"You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
Again, Adams accurately foresaw what it would cost to maintain the freedoms won in the American Revolution. On this Independence Day, U.S. armed forces continue to pay the cost in Afghanistan and Iraq. There will be no holiday today for those men and women who are sacrificing to preserve the very independence the nation celebrates, just as millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen have sacrificed since the Revolutionary War.
The second president would later grumble about the third: "Was there ever a Coup de Theatre that had so great an effect as Jefferson's Penmanship of the Declaration of Independence?" But his envy did not prevent Adams from proudly and bravely signing the document, knowing full well that if the Continental Army failed to repel the English, he would be hanged as a traitor.
Late in life, the rivals became friends and confidants. And both died July 4, 1826 - 50 years to the day after Congress approved the declaration - as if in cosmic confirmation that July 4, not July 2, was the proper birthday of the United States.
Before Adams died, an attendant asked him if he knew what day it was. Adams replied, "Oh, yes, it is the glorious Fourth of July. It is a great day. It is a good day. God bless it."
God bless it indeed.