Those were the words John Adams used in a July 3, 1776 letter to his wife, Abigail, to sum up challenges facing a nation in the making. In the letter Adams talked about the smallpox epidemic that struck the army and worrisome decisions concerning foreign affairs. But he ended his thoughts by celebrating the birth of a ” …great anniversary Festival” he wanted to see celebrated with lots of noise and “illuminations.”
From generation to generation, year in and year out, Americans have made Adams’ wish a reality with July 4 concerts, parades and, of course, fireworks. Toddlers, seniors and everyone in between will gasp and cheer over the next two days as pyrotechnic celebrations once again bring Adams’ wish to life.
We’ve come to think of July 4 as a day devoted to all that is American and to democratic ideals that spurred forth Adams and his compatriots to fight for and ultimately declare independence. Adams embraced this confident spirit in perhaps his most famous letter to Abigail, but he also expressed worries, even a lack of confidence, that provides significant food for thought more than three centuries later.
He used words like obstructions, embarrassments and convulsions to talk about the daunting process of birthing a nation. Much of his letter reflects on timing and how events that might have initially been perceived as successes turned out to be destructive.
Adams knew what we sometimes forget today: Democracy is a messy, imperfect process evolving more often than not along a frustrating one-step-forward, two-steps-backward course. He knew that the trials and tribulations leading to independence were the reasons to celebrate because they defined resilience and the triumph of spirit over tyranny.
“Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory,” he wrote. Those words alone bear careful and prolonged thought. As someone who alternately begged, cajoled and prodded his fellows into forming a perfect union, Adams knew in his heart that what he was helping to create was far from perfect.
In fact, he knew that he was helping to forge, out of imperfect materials and with successive setbacks, a society that would withstand the fires of dissension and division and the cry and clamour of critics.
The ultimate goal — freedom and independence — were foremost on his mind and they kept his eyes sharp and clear even when self-doubt crept into his mind.
In our instant information age of mobile devices providing a platform for everyone’s opinion, we can do ourselves a favor on Independence Day by celebrating the imperfections and rough roads our nation has traveled over the years, decades and centuries to once again bring us, as Adams described it, to this Day of Deliverance.
Happy Independence Day from all of us at Essex Media Group.