Originally posted May 30th, 2012
Four Ways to Re-connect with the Spirit of Independence
We all love the 4th of July. Parties, fireworks, barbecues! It’s all in fun. But what is too often forgotten is the history behind the holiday. As someone who lived in New York City and New Jersey for 11 years and as an amateur historian, I discovered the stories behind our celebration, stories every American needs to know and explore by walking around, attending lectures, turning on PBS, and touring the surviving places where it all happened to the great enrichment of my life.
Here are four ways you can re-connect yourself:
Watch documentaries and bio-pics. From HBO’s Emmy-award winning bio-pic “John Adams” to Ken Burns series “Thomas Jefferson” and beyond, there are numerous bio-pics on some of the biggest names of the 18th century. For a broader view of the conflict between the Crown/Loyalist Americans and American Patriots (at the time, all Americans considered themselves “British” right up to the Treaty of Paris which ended the American War for Independence) look at the History Channel’s “The Revolution.”
Visit Revolutionary War historical sites. From Prospect Park and Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn (the largest surviving sections of the battlefield from 1776’s Battle for New York) to Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan to the Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill memorials in Boston and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, there are many preserved landmarks from the American Revolution across the eastern seaboard. This is a great time to visit those historical places. Major cities often feature special walking tours for visiting these locations. In New York, consider Big Onion’s “Revolutionary New York” tour (http://www.bigonion.com/tour/revolutionary-new-york/). In Boston, try the “Freedom Trail” tour (http://www.thefreedomtrail.org/tickets/publictours.html) In Philadelphia, check out The Constitutional’s tours (http://www.theconstitutional.com/index.html). Except for the Philadelphia tour, which I am eager to take in the near future, I have personally taken the other tours and can only praise them.
Attend a reading of the Declaration of Independence. This is one of my favorite 4th of July traditions since moving to the East coast. Every year cities across the nation host public readings of the Declaration of Independence in its entirety. Check your local calendar of events for a reading near you. One of the biggest readings in the country is the annual reading at the Old State House in Boston, MA (http://www.bostonharborfest.com/). Come a few minutes ahead for the 10am sharp reading of the preamble which begins the reading. I attended this same reading in 2008. It was absolutely amazing!
Attend lectures on American History. Often run by the National Park Service, museums dedicated to the American Revolution, and/or state historical societies, you can learn a lot and celebrate American attending the many lectures available on dozens of facets of 18th century American life. Some of the best of these lectures are held year round (New York City frequently hosts at least one on/close to August 25-26, the anniversary of the Battle for New York), so check your local listings for the next lecture in your area. The last “Battle Week” festivities I attended at Manhattan’s Federal Hall involved costumed lecturers and learning experiences on some of the least publicized aspects to the War of Independence — including how Crown soldiers experienced the war, an area rarely considered by Americans.
Learning about our past enriches our lives. Not only does it help us celebrate the 4th of July, but it helps us make better political decisions for ourselves. Through these four methods I’ve become a better consumer of political and cultural information, allowing me to make better choices as a voter.