Independence Days, or Daze

Alice-white rabbit

The Fourth of July. Birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Stephen Foster (‘father of American music’), anniversary of the deaths of both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1826. And yes, I make it 244 years since the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence (New York abstaining).

The Oxford Companion to the Year helpfully quotes those lines which must be in the minds of a good many thinking Americans just now as they scan their present political and social landscape, lines regarding those ‘unalienable Rights’, among them, ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’: ‘That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundations on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.’

The Companion also quotes, in addition to George Washington, an Englishman (Marryat) and a Scotsman (Macrae), the orator, activist and author of the classic Narrative of an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, in an address he gave on 4 July 1852: ‘I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common . . . This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthem, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.’[1]


(Frederick Douglass)

The anniversary of publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland would have seemed scarily appropriate to the state or states that we’re currently in and, apparently, it was scheduled for release by Macmillan on 4 July 1865. But the illustrator, John Tenniel, was wholly unsatisfied by the quality of the pictures in the finished book and Carroll recalled the entire print run, also asking for the advance copies he’d sent out to be retrieved.

So the occasion would seem to be an all-American one – except that some members of the British government, with the eager connivance of the popular press, have named this ‘Independence Day’ (seemingly forgetful of what and whom America was declaring its independence from), the reopening of pubs, hairdressers, theme parks and restaurants, with added slogans such as ‘eat out to help out’, that ‘help’ surely intended for the hospitality industry rather than the further spreading of the virus.

We are, in any case, a month further on from the Prime Minister telling the House of Commons that he was ‘very proud of our record’ in the fight against Covid-19, just a few days before the estimated total of excess deaths in the United Kingdom passed 63,000.(




[1] Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 281, 282.


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