As I have written, the United States of America declared independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The Fourth of July is not America’s birthday. That being said, July 4 is, nonetheless, a day worthy of celebration. After all, it was on July 4, 1776 that the United States became, in the world of Lincoln, a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
For that matter, it was on that same day fourscore and seven years later that two of Lincoln’s armies achieved decisive victories over those who sought to stand athwart history and turn back the march of liberty, justice, and equality.
In Pennsylvania the war criminal and traitor Robert E. Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg. In Mississippi, John C. Pemberton surrender his army of almost 30,000 traitors to Major General Ulysses S. Grant.
While news of the Union victory at Gettysburg reached Washington almost immediately, it was not until July 7 that news of Vicksburg’s surrender reached the city.
A crowd of celebrants marched to the White House to serenade President Lincoln. Lincoln thanked them for coming and delivered a short, impromptu speech:
I am very glad indeed to see you to-night, and yet I will not say thank for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. How long ago is it? – eighty odd years – since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate – the only two of fifty-five who signed that were elected Presidents of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hand to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action. This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history. Another President, five years after, was called from this stage of existence on the same day and month of the year; and now, on this last Fourth of July just passed, when we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, “turned tail” and run. Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion. I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of the country from the beginning of the war. There are trying occasions, not only in success, but for the want of success. I dislike the mention of the name of one single officer lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but I will not mention. Having said this much, I will now take the music.
As always, Lincoln’s words are worth reading and contemplating (even if he did incorrectly refer to the Fourth of July as the “birthday of the United States of America”).
– P. Sicher