In the Heart of Our Republic

July 4, for me, usually means reading the Declaration, having a barbecue and attending the big Central Pennsylvania fireworks display. But this year, for reasons I hope to one day get into, I had to be in Maryland and therefore spent the Fourth in our nation’s capital (estimate temperature today: 194 degrees).

There is very “Heart of the Empire” feel to the District of Columbia, especially in its architecture (“Goodness, look at that building! That must be the Supreme Court or something!” [Checks map] “No, it’s the the Bureau of Lazy Sunday Afternoon Frisbee Games”). It was conceived on a grand scale and is laid out as though expecting another millenium of monuments and exhibits. You can see how spending one’s life in this place would give one delusions of grandeur.

But the people thronging the mall didn’t seem a particularly worshipful crowd. What impressed me about my fellow citizens was how much of their enthusiasm and patriotism was directed almost perpendicular to their government. The crowds came not to pay homage to our leaders but to marvel at the ideal of our government and the very real achievements of our great nation housed in the Smithsonian. I didn’t see anything political, just a bunch of Americans who seemed clued in to how unique and special and wonderful our 236-year-old experiment in a Constitutional Republicanism is.

I don’t have any deep thoughts today — my energy for them was drained by leading Sal 11000 Beta through the Skylab again and again and again. But I would suggest you read the Declaration of Independence. I do this every Fourth and so should you. Marvel at the clarity of language and thought; the powerful humanistic strain that runs through it. Think about how many of the complaints against the British government could be leveled against our own; and how often those abuses are be justified in the names of our various wars on Terror, Drugs, etc. You can also ready Randy Barnett’s annotated version, Thomas Fleming about the country we were, and Maggie McNeill on how we have fallen from those days. And you can cap it off at Popehat, with an inspiring story of how America still means something to so many.

Update: Late links: Frederick Douglas, whose patriotism shines in his harsh critique of our nation. Also, Ronald Reagan.

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  1. sahrab

    Hal (or anyone else for that matter)

    If you go to into DC to watch the fireworks at the National Mall the best place to sit is west of 15th street between Constitution and Independence Avenues, on the lawn at the Washington Monument (facing west).

    For whatever reason this area is almost always empty compared to the rest of the Mall, probably due to its distance from the nearest metro. If you situate yourself correctly you still get the fireworks going off behind the monument (its an awesome site on an overcast night) but you’ll miss any entertainment going on at the Capitol (for years the Beach Boys used to play, but stopped about 15 years ago)

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