I have never liked the Fourth of July. I like fireworks, but I don't like pushing through crowds to get a good view of them. I don't feel particularly comfortable at pool parties. I didn't grow up in a family that barbecues or goes to "the lake." (We were in Oregon.) I see the Fourth as a holiday designed for extraverts, not me.
That's why the one and only thing I did this year to observe the holiday was the one thing that comes naturally to reserved introverts: I read the Declaration of Independence. And this time, I really read it and thought about it. I figured, it's probably one of those things I should do in my lifetime, so I might as well do it now. (It didn't hurt that it was a nice day on the patio!) My journalist mind kicked into gear as I tried to translate the 232-year-old text into simpler language (though Jefferson's own is beautiful enough), and when I got to the long laundry list of complaints about the king of England, I found myself wishing I'd paid more attention in my high school history classes. I wanted details.
"For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world ..."
"For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences ..."
"He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands."
Wow. I knew the colonists didn't like King George, but I guess I had never grasped the extent of the things he had done to try to suppress the colonies. I would love to know the specifics of what really happened to spur all those complaints. It would make a good HBO or Showtime miniseries, I think — I envision something sexy and violent and quasi-historical along the lines of "The Tudors."
I also found myself wondering what the British side of the story was. The Declaration of Independence is written in a highly persuasive rhetorical fashion, but what if an equally persuasive Brit were to write a rebuttal? What would it say? (Oh, I'm sure it's been done, and I am just not aware of it.) Benjamin Franklin had lived in London for a while and was an admirer of English royalty, I think. Did he have trouble signing the declaration?
And then, as I perused the list of names of men who had signed the document, I saw a familiar one from New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett. The same name as the fictional president on The West Wing, who also was from New Hampshire (but spelled his name with only one t). How did I not know that before?