(HOST) Willem Lange and his wife have an unvarying way of celebrating the birth of our nation.
(LANGE) For some years Mother and I observed a truce between us: If she would not mention in unflattering terms the behavior of our recent past President, I would not criticize the performance of our current one. Our differences on these matters were irreconcilable, so there was no point in exacerbating them. History will sort it out after we’re gone.
Still, I do cherish this right of dissent, especially in our current atmosphere of militant patriotism and evangelical fervor. We often forget our Founders were revolutionaries and dissenters as were many of their ancestors.
The new colonies seemed beyond the reach of the long arm of the King and limitless in their possibilities. But it wasn’t long before we began disagreeing with each other, breaking away to form new colonies, and executing witches. Then the King’s demands became onerous, and we perceived a common enemy. By the time of the French and Indian War, the independent nature which would be expressed later in the Declaration had become pronounced. British officers, appointed from the gentlemen’s class, were generally despised by Americans, who preferred officers elected by experience or merit.
Taxes, autocratic governors, and political frustration culminated in the irreparable breach with Great Britain. This is the event we celebrated last week: the historic signing in which each pledged his life, fortune, and sacred honor.
But it’s important to remember that even among them there was dissent. The Loyalists, many thousands of them, were hounded and murdered by their erstwhile neighbors, and their property confiscated. Both revolution and dissent had higher prices in the American colonies than they do now. With the formation of the new, experimental nation, there was still much disagreement about the nature of a republic.
A couple of weeks ago Mother and I celebrated the birth of the republic as we always do, as a remembrance of the months of argument that led to our Declaration of Independence, and the other event, eighty-five years later, that tested “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
We watched the wonderful film Gettysburg, depicting the bloody three-day battle that decided the fate of our nation. On the Fourth of July the Army of Northern Virginia retreated toward the Potomac with its seventeen-mile-long train of wounded — hard to celebrate.
I got up early on the Fourth and fired my annual twelve-gugage salute. It was magnificent! Dogs began to bark, crows deserted the neighborhood, and I heard a distant shout from a man somewhere beyond the swamp. That, along with the film, was pretty much our Independence Day. It was a day of focused gratitude to our disagreeable forebears for the sacred privileges they secured for us as rights, and gave us to protect.
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire. I gotta get back to work.