Can you believe it's already July 4?
One of my favorite stories about 4th of July celebrations comes from Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder's book about the small town of DeSmet, South Dakota. Having survived the long, harsh winter, the townspeople are thrilled to celebrate the anniversary of their country's independence. Although they can't afford a grand spectacle, the townspeople gather for a celebration which includes the reading of the Declaration of Independence.
When I first read this book many years ago, I was amazed at the idea that the Declaration of Independence would be read aloud at a 4th of July celebration. Even more amazing, though, was the next statement: "Laura and Carrie knew the Declaration by heart, of course."
What? Can you imagine? So beloved was this document that schoolchildren once learned it by heart.
"Laura and Carrie knew the Declaration by heart, of course, but it gave them a solemn, glorious feeling to hear the words. They took hold of hands and stood listening in the solemnly listening crowd. The Stars and Stripes were fluttering bright against the thin, clear blue overhead, and their minds were saying the words before their ears heard them."
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . .When the Declaration has been read, Pa Ingalls leads the townspeople in singing "America," the relatively new song set to the old tune of "God Save the King":
Long may our land be bright
With freedom's holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!
After hearing the Declaration of Independence read aloud and singing that song, Laura is struck by an amazing thought.
"The crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America's king.
"She thought: Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
"Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. "Our father's God, author of liberty--" The laws of Nature and of Nature's God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God's law is the only thing gives you a right to be free." (Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, New York: HarperCollins, 1969, p. 76.)
Oh, how I wish that more of us could understand what Laura understood that day!
Happy Independence Day to you!