The history of the United States displays an uncanny pattern: At moments of crisis, when the odds against success seem overwhelming and disaster looks imminent, fate intervenes to provide deliverance and progress. Read more...
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Nov 2016
From the cover
The Glorious Fourth
Dedication, Death, and Fifty Years of Miracles
Coincidence alone could never explain it: that much seemed obvious to Americans of 1826, just as it does to citizens of today. The eerie events of that epochal Independence Day suggested the intervention of supernatural forces, mixing death and dedication in such powerful ways that observers of all faiths, and of no faith, saw evidence of destiny's direction in American affairs. Even now, after nearly two hundred years of turbulent history, recollections of that "Glorious Fourth" can compel the most skeptical scholars to acknowledge weird, wonderful aspects in the rise of the Republic, and to reconsider the disconcerting old idea that God shows special tenderness toward the American experiment.
On the occasion of the fiftieth Fourth of July, such confidence in providential protection seemed not only logical but unavoidable. After all, the older citizens of the federal Union had already witnessed a half century of miracles, highlighted by the new nation's prodigious growth and unprecedented prosperity. Americans viewed themselves as a chosen people, selected for special responsibilities to accompany their special blessings, and so looked to biblical references to establish the proper context for major public celebrations.
The preparations for the anniversary repeatedly invoked the Old Testament notion of jubilee, citing a well-known verse in Leviticus: "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you" (25:10). After all, a portion of this same verse had been inscribed onto the Liberty Bell itself—already a cherished national icon just two generations after it reputedly rang out in Philadelphia's Independence Hall to celebrate signing of the Declaration.
A half century later, leaders in every corner of the country arranged for pealing bells in cities, villages, and crossroads churches, in recognition of the breathtaking growth of the young Republic. The most recent census showed almost twelve million inhabitants—nearly five times the population that had launched a world-changing revolution. Even more dramatic, a loose coalition of thirteen thinly settled colonies, clinging to a relatively narrow band of territory at the edge of the Atlantic, had given way to twenty-four flourishing states with plausible dreams of an American empire someday reaching all the way to the Pacific.
In the midst of this dizzying change, Americans of the era clung to their precious remaining connections to the nation's heroic origins, expressing special gratitude for the unlikely survival of the two titans who had played the most prominent roles in declaring independence. At a time when male life expectancy barely reached forty years, John Adams, the "Atlas of Independence" and the second president of the United States, had passed his ninetieth birthday with his faculties and health remarkably intact. From his ancestral home outside of Boston, he watched with passionate engagement as his oldest son (and intellectual soul mate) presided over the government in faraway Washington as the sixth president. In fact, one of the former chief executive's doctors reported that the inauguration of his son in 1825 actually enhanced the old man's strength and vitality. "But physicians do not always consider how much the powers of the mind, and what is called good spirits, can recover the lost energies of the body," wrote Benjamin Waterhouse to President John Quincy Adams. "I really believe that your father's revival is mainly owing to the demonstration that his son has not served an...