Today is the Fourth of July, the day when being a patriotic American has nothing to do with politics or with acts of public service. The Fourth of July is all about what you’re eating, what music you’re listening to, what you’re wearing, and how much you’re enjoying watching colored explosions in the sky.  That may sound like cynical sarcasm, but I don’t mean it that way. Yes, Independence Day is a good time to be grateful and appreciative to members of the armed forces (although we should be grateful and appreciative to them all the time, just sayin’) and to remember all of the historical politicians who have done great things for America, but in general, the Fourth of July is kind of a generic patriotic holiday for people to celebrate and enjoy being Americans. Unfortunately, sometimes Memorial Day is also treated that way, if it’s even treated as a patriotic holiday at all, and Veterans’ Day isn’t observed as fully as it should be, but that’s something for me to lament in another blog post someday; it’s not part of my point here.

The reason that we celebrate this holiday on July 4th, of course, is because the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776. (Actually, that’s not entirely true, but I have just deleted the lengthy section I wrote about that because it seemed to be an unnecessary rambling tangent) In a way, it seems strange that we celebrate the anniversary of the document rather than the war. After all, the Declaration didn’t set anyone free. King George III didn’t read it and say, “You know what, they’re right. Let’s just end this war now and tell them that they’re free; congratulations and good luck setting up the new government.” They still had to fight a real war, and people really died.  The Declaration of Independence wasn’t even a unique historical document in terms of the ideas it expressed; Thomas Jefferson drew heavily from John Locke (who was British) and from the Magna Carta. (Also British) He was merely applying accepted concepts of freedom and liberty to the issues concerning the American colonies. Still, the Declaration of Independence acts as a better commemorative event than the war because it put specific complaints in general terms, making those ideas permanently relevant, and establishing them as principles of the American ideology.

In some ways, the American Revolution itself was kind of petty. It’s true that the American people were being subjugated by the British government, but the situation wasn’t quite as intolerable as they made it sound. It’s not like the British were kidnapping American children to feed them to extraterrestrial dragons who would then fly through the colonial skies, breathing fire upon the defenseless houses and villages they happened to see, then departing into another dimension where they were safe from any pitiful attack that the feeble and weak Americans might attempt. It’s not like the British were enslaving Americans and sticking them in dangerously rickety time machines, sending them back to perilous prehistoric times to mine American soil for the mineral wealth that Europeans hadn’t found yet for the simple reason that Europeans didn’t know at the time that there was any such thing as America.

In fact, the American colonists weren’t in any danger of dragons or enforced prehistoric labor or anything of the sort. Their problem was mostly taxes. That, and the fact that they didn’t like King George. They didn’t believe that someone who lived far away and lived a completely different lifestyle had any right to make decisions that affected their everyday lives. So they fought a war about it, and ever since then, America has been a land of freedom where the government is completely in touch with everyone’s lifestyles and personal needs, and nobody ever has to pay taxes that they don’t want to pay. Oh, wait, not really.

The fact of the matter is that any government has its imperfections, and some things are unavoidable. Unless you’re going for anarchy, you have to accept the facts that the government can’t do everything you want it to, that politicians can’t recognize and meet the needs and desires of each and every individual person, and that some taxes are necessary.  The founding fathers came up with a pretty good system that has worked decently for us for well over two centuries, and it was inevitable that most people would still be unhappy with a lot of the specific events and governmental decisions that have occurred. I’m not trying to justify everything that happens in American politics; I strongly disagree with a lot of it, but I recognize that it isn’t because the system itself is hopelessly flawed. Despite the fact that many conditions are the same as they were at the time of the Revolutionary War, I hope that not many people actually want to fight a war about it. If there ever is another American Revolution, I very much doubt that the new government will be better than the current government.

But political issues, as important as they are, have nothing to do with what we celebrate when we celebrate being Americans. The reason that we observe Independence Day on July 4th, rather than on the anniversary of the end of the Revolutionary War or the Boston Tea Party, is that it’s the principles in the Declaration that define American patriotism. Really, we aren’t even celebrating the merits of democracy, either. We’re celebrating because it’s lots of fun to celebrate a holiday, and if we think that July 4th is a good day to have one, we might as well say that our celebrations are patriotic. I think that’s perfectly valid.