The first issue of The Nation, dated July 6, 1865, included an editorial titled “The Great Festival,” which noted that in the eighty-nine years Americans had been celebrating Independence Day on the Fourth of July, “never before have we had such cause of rejoicing.” The Civil War had ended less than three months earlier, and the editors and founders of The Nation—abolitionists and other radicals based largely in New York and Boston—were close to ecstatic about the possibility of finally fulfilling the country’s early promises:
It is not simply the birth of the nation which we now commemorate, but its regeneration…We celebrate not only the close of a long and bloody civil war, but the close of the contest which preceded and led to it, that, as it was well called, “irrepressible conflict,” which for half a century absorbed all the intellect of the country, perverted its understanding, corrupted its morals, and employed most of its moral and mental energy, either in the attack or defence, in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, of one of the worst forms of barbarism;—a conflict, too, which, during the last twenty years, began to exercise a paralyzing influence on industry and to poison social intercourse…We celebrate, in short, not simply the national independence, or the return of peace, but the close of the agitation about slavery, and the extinction of slavery itself. How tremendous an influence this fact is likely to have on our moral and intellectual progress, we can now only conjecture.
“It is not simply the triumph of American democracy that we rejoice over,” they concluded, “but the triumph of democratic principles everywhere.”
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Another interesting piece related to Independence Day appeared in 1925. An editorial titled “Degrading the Fourth of July” took issue with the attempt by President Calvin Coolidge to establish a “national mobilization day” on July 4 to test the nation’s preparedness for war. Commending Coolidge’s rejection of the army’s first choice for the mobilization test day, November 11—pointing out the hypocrisy of transforming into a preparation for future wars the anniversary of the end of “the war to end all wars”—The Nation argued that the values of the mobilization day were equally inappropriate for Independence Day.
Why pick upon the Fourth of July? The glorious Fourth was by no stretch of the imagination ever intended to be a day given over to the preparation for war, to the rattling of the saber. It was historically the day that America cut itself loose from what was considered a tyranny and a despotism exercised or typified by men in red, bearing arms.” “It is a great nation play-day, when men wish to be on the sands of the shores or in the mountains or on track or field, and we do not think that this effort to make the whole nation—for that is the real idea—stand at attention and salute and goose step and fire blank cartridges will go down with the people…
There is a drift here which is sweeping this country along the very lines which the founders of the government dreaded.… What should be done with the Fourth of July is not to make it a day for turning out all the troops available, and as many unthinking civilians as can be formed into line, but a day for the reaffirmation of that distrust and dislike of permanent armed forces and of their glorification which actuated George Washington and all of his associates, none more so than Thomas Jefferson, the radical, the disarmer of the fleet, whom it is now the fashion to celebrate.