In 1993 John Phillip Reid published the fourth and final volume of his Constitutional History of the American Revolution. The subtitles for each volume are noteworthy: The Authority of Rights (1988); The Authority to Tax (1987); The Authority to Legislate (1991); and, finally, The Authority of Law. The shelves of many American libraries, public and private, have welcomed the accumulated weight of historical explanations of the coming of American Independence with political, economic, and social templates serving as the sources of underlying causation. Few, too few, have offered legal and constitutional analyses, an intellectual shortcoming that would have astounded, and likely angered, American whigs watching from their perch in 1775.
Editor’s note: This Fourth of July oration was first delivered by G. M. Curtis III on July 1, 1989 in Lone Mountain, Montana, for a conference on American citizenship.
As an American historian and as an American citizen who looks forward to the 21st. century, I place great stock in John Adams’s early 19th. century exhortation to future generations that they remember and celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Technically speaking, I suppose that we are jumping the gun by about one day, since the Continental Congress first agreed to the Declaration on the 2nd. of July 1776. Actually, the past five days in one way or another has represented a remembrance and a reconsideration of many of those values and beliefs that John Adams cherished enough to tender the ultimate sacrifice: his life and property. It is altogether fitting and proper, then, as my historical footnote for these discussions and as a remembrance of the Declaration of Independence, to return to the first principles therein contained, principles that not only retain their merit today, but more importantly, offer us hope for the years to come.
Having just finished reading What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, some readers might well ask, "Really, do we? Is it that simplistically romantic?" The editors might well reply in the negative suggesting that the song, "The Star-Spangled Banner," conveys brilliantly a condition achieved after having weathered a potentially deadly challenge, a condition earned after having acted courageously in the defense of American liberty against a British military assault. Hence in the title the editors signal that they have intentionally sought out many voices in their remarkable collection which call upon readers to aspire…