Today’s column from Peggy Noonan, A Cold Man’s Warm Words, would be an excellent column for everyone to read on Independence Day. It’s the story of some of Thomas Jefferson’s words that didn’t make it to the final edit of the Declaration of Independence — the document and event we’ll all be celebrating this weekend with fireworks and flame-kissed brats.
In one of the most touching paragraphs, Noonan writes about “We might have been a free and great people together” being edited out of the Declaration of Independence:
“To write is to think, and to write well is to think well,” David McCullough once said in conversation. Jefferson was thinking of the abrupt end of old ties, of self-defining ties, and, I suspect, that the pain of this had to be acknowledged. It is one thing to declare the case for freedom, and to make a fiery denunciation of abusive, autocratic and high-handed governance. But it is another thing, and an equally important one, to acknowledge the human implications of the break. These were our friends, our old relations; we were leaving them, ending the particular facts of our long relationship forever. We would feel it. Seventeen seventy-six was the beginning of a dream. But it was the end of one too. “We might have been a free and great people together.”
Wow! That certainly brings a personal element to the story. That ties a bow on something that very many high school civics students I’m sure wondered silently while learning about the events in the late 1700s leading to the formation of our nation. “What happened? Did we hate each other? Why are we good allies now?” To know that it was a tough break up is humbling. Almost like a couple that goes through a bitter divorce to come out as reasonable friends on the other side.
Yet another interesting passage:
America and Britain did become great and free peoples together, and apart, bound by a special relationship our political leaders don’t often speak of and should never let fade. You can’t have enough old friends. There was the strange war of 1812, declared by America and waged here by England, which reinvaded, and burned our White House and Capitol. That was rude of them. But they got their heads handed to them in New Orleans and left, never to return as an army.
Even 1812 gave us something beautiful and tender. There was a bombardment at Fort McHenry. A young lawyer and writer was watching, Francis Scott Key. He knew his country was imperiled. He watched the long night in hopes the fort had not fallen. And he saw it—the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
That might help you appreciate those blooms and booms in the sky that much more this weekend. It will for me.