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Friday, July 4 2014

Independence Day

Today we celebrate a miracle, purchased for us by giants.

I've noticed that in American popular culture, holidays tend to accrue movies that become "required viewing" around those times of the year. The whole genre of "Christmas Movies," for example, is vast—so vast that certain Christmas movies have begun to gravitate more toward Thanksgiving, which has become the unofficial start of the Christmas Season. A Miracle on 34th Street comes to mind as a movie which could appropriate be accounted either a Christmas movie or a Thanksgiving movie.

Other holidays have been slower to accrue any "required watching"; while the whole genres of Romance and Romantic Comedies are wide open for inclusion on Valentine's Day, I struggle to think of any individual titles which are uniquely suited to the holiday of romantic love. Ditto for Easter. Strangely enough, one of our lesser celebrations, Groundhog Day, has a movie all its own, perfectly titled so that no one has to miss the connection.

What, then, of Independence Day—the "Fourth of July", which we celebrate today?

While I cannot think of any movies, per se, there is one item that does come to mind, and I plan to make it a regular bit of Independence Day viewing from this point forward. In 2008, HBO aired a miniseries about the life of John Adams, the second President of the United States and one of the great founders of this nation—one of the giants I mentioned at the outset.

Based on David McCullough's great biography of Adams, "John Adams" tells the story of Adams from his rise to prominence as the defender of the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. The narrative covers a great deal of early American history, including Adams' friendship with Thomas Jefferson, as well as their acrimonious political rivalry later when both vied to succeed George Washington as President.

Perhaps the most compelling sequence, however, comes in the second installment: "Part II: Independence (1774 A.D. - 1776 A.D.)" In this episode, we see the furious and passionate debates in which the fate of this country was decided by a small handful of men over a hot summer in Philadelpha. These debates lead Adams to some personal lessons on humility and tact, lessons which I know I could stand to learn better. The episode concludes, with this:

Heady stuff.

That scene alone would make this episode required viewing for any July 4, but there is one more connection to be mentioned: On this day in 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within hours of each other.

On his deathbed, John Adams is reported to have said, when asked if he knew what day it was, " Oh, yes; it is the glorious Fourth of July. It is a great day. It is a good day. God bless it. God bless you all." Later, he said "Mr. Jefferson still survives," but he was wrong; Jefferson had died at his home in Monticello a few hours earlier.

God bless this glorious Fourth of July. God bless these men who bestowed such gifts of liberty and self-determination on us. Never forget them.

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Intellectual flatulence... when I failed to come up with some obvious July 4th movies, I was entirely forgetting "The Patriot" and... err... "Independence Day"