Top 5 Myths About the Fourth of July!

Fact & Fiction
tags: Rick Shenkman, myths, Independence Day, July 4, Fourth of July

Rick Shenkman is the editor of the History News Network and the author of the forthcoming book, Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (Basic Books, 2015).

Credit: Wiki Commons.

#1 Independence Was Declared on the Fourth of July.

America's independence was actually declared by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776. The night of the second the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement:"This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States."

So what happened on the Glorious Fourth? The document justifying the act of Congress-you know it as Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence-was adopted on the fourth, as is indicated on the document itself, which is, one supposes, the cause for all the confusion. As one scholar has observed, what has happened is that the document announcing the event has overshadowed the event itself.

When did Americans first celebrate independence? Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the new July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.

John Adams, writing a letter home to his beloved wife Abigail the day after independence was declared (i.e. July 3), predicted that from then on"the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival." A scholar coming across this document in the nineteenth century quietly" corrected" the document, Adams predicting the festival would take place not on the second but the fourth.

#2 The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4.

Hanging in the grand Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States is a vast canvas painting by John Trumbull depicting the signing of the Declaration. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote, years afterward, that the signing ceremony took place on July 4. When someone challenged Jefferson's memory in the early 1800's Jefferson insisted he was right. The truth? As David McCullough remarks in his new biography of Adams,"No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

So when was it signed? Most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later. And their names were not released to the public until later still, January 1777. The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it. Years later Jefferson claimed to remember the event clearly, regaling visitors with tales of the flies circling overhead. But as he was wrong about the date, so perhaps he was wrong even about the flies.

The truth about the signing was not finally established until 1884 when historian Mellon Chamberlain, researching the manuscript minutes of the journal of Congress, came upon the entry for August 2 noting a signing ceremony.

As for Benjamin Franklin's statement, which has inspired patriots for generations,"We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately" … well, there's no proof he ever made it.

#3 The Liberty Bell Rang in American Independence.

Well of course you know now that this event did not happen on the fourth. But did it happen at all? It's a famous scene. A young boy with bond hair and blue eyes was supposed to have been posted in the street next to Independence Hall to give a signal to an old man in the bell tower when independence was declared. It never happened. The story was made up out of whole cloth in the middle of the nineteenth century by writer George Lippard in a book intended for children. The book was aptly titled, Legends of the American Revolution. There was no pretense that the story was genuine.

If the Liberty Bell rang at all in celebration of independence nobody took note at the time. The bell was not even named in honor of American independence. It received the moniker in the early nineteenth century when abolitionists used it as a symbol of the antislavery movement.

If you visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, encased in a multi-million dollar shrine (soon to be replaced by an even grander building), a tape recording made by the National Park Service leaves the impression that the bell indeed played a role in American independence. (We last heard the recording three years ago. We assume it's still being played.) The guides are more forthcoming, though they do not expressly repudiate the old tradition unless directly asked a question about it. On the day we visited the guide sounded a bit defensive, telling our little group it didn't really matter if the bell rang in American independence or not. Millions have come to visit, she noted, allowing the bell to symbolize liberty for many different causes. In other words, it is our presence at the bell that gives the shrine its meaning. It is important because we think it's important. It's the National Park Service's version of existentialism.

As for the famous crack … it was a badly designed bell and it cracked. End of story.

#4 Betsy Ross Sewed the First Flag.

A few blocks away from the Liberty Bell is the Betsy Ross House. There is no proof Betsy lived here, as the Joint State Government Commission of Pennsylvania concluded in a study in 1949. Oh well. Every year the throngs still come to gawk. As you make your way to the second floor through a dark stairwell the feeling of verisimilitude is overwhelming. History is everywhere. And then you come upon the famous scene. Behind a wall of Plexiglas, as if to protect the sacred from contamination, a Betsy Ross manikin sits in a chair carefully sewing the first flag. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is where Betsy sewed that first famous symbol of our freedom, the bars and stripes, Old Glory itself.

Alas, the story is no more authentic than the house itself. It was made up in the nineteenth century by Betsy's descendants.

The guide for our group never let on that the story was bogus, however. Indeed, she provided so many details that we became convinced she really believed it. She told us how General George Washington himself asked Betsy to stitch the first flag. He wanted six point stars; Betsy told him that five point stars were easier to cut and stitch. The general relented.

After the tour was over we approached the guide for an interview. She promptly removed her Betsy Ross hat, turned to us and admitted the story is all just a lot of phooey. Oh, but it is a good story, she insisted, and one worth telling.

Poor Betsy. In her day she was just a simple unheralded seamstress. Now the celebrators won't leave her alone. A few years ago they even dug up her bones where they had lain in a colonial graveyard for 150 years, so she could be buried again beneath a huge sarcophagus located on the grounds of the house she was never fortunate enough to have lived in.

So who sewed the first flag? No one knows. But we do know who designed it. It was Frances Hopkinson. Records show that in May 1780 he sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty for designing the"flag of the United States." A small group of descendants works hard to keep his name alive. Just down the street from Betsy's house one of these descendants, the caretaker for the local cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried, entertains school children with stories about Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration, who is also credited with designing the seal of the United States. We asked him what he made of the fantasies spun at the Betsy Ross house. He confided he did not want to make any disparaging remarks as he was a paid employee of the city of Philadelphia, which now owns the house.

The city seems to be of the opinion that the truth doesn't matter. Down the street from the cemetery is a small plaque posted on a brick building giving Hopkinson the credit he rightly deserves.

As long as the tourists come.

#5 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Died on the Fourth of July.

Ok, this is true. On July 4, 1826, Adams and Jefferson both died, exactly fifty years after the adoption of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which the country took as a sign of American divinity. But there is no proof that Adams, dying, uttered,"Jefferson survives," which was said to be especially poignant, as Jefferson had died just hours before. Mark that up as just another hoary story we wished so hard were true we convinced ourselves it is.

Have a Happy Fourth!

Related Links

  • Independence National Historical Park

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    More Comments:

    Dale R Streeter - 6/29/2010

    Thank you! Accuracy and preciseness are worth noting. (No sarcasm intended here.)

    WILLIAM HYLAND - 7/3/2009

    In celebration of the 4th of July, I offer this essay in defense of our greatest founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I feel Mr. Jefferson’s reputation has been unfairly eviscerated by a misrepresentation of the DNA results in the Hemings controversy. The exhumation of discredited, prurient embellishments has not only deluded readers, but impoverished a fair debate. In fact, with the possible exception of the Kennedy assassination, I am unaware of any major historical controversy riddled with so much misinformation and outright inaccuracies as the sex-oriented Sally Hemings libel.
    The “Sally” story is pure fiction, possibly politics, but certainly not historical fact or science. It reflects a recycled inaccuracy that has metastasized from book to book, over two hundred years. In contrast to the blizzard of recent books spinning the controversy as a mini-series version of history, I found that layer upon layer of direct and circumstantial evidence points to a mosaic distinctly away from Jefferson. My research, evaluation, and personal interviews led me to one inevitable conclusion: the revisionist grip of historians have the wrong Jefferson--the DNA, as well as other historical evidence, matches perfectly to his younger brother, Randolph and his teen-age sons, as the true candidates for a sexual relationship with Sally.
    A monopoly of books (all paternity believers) written since the DNA results have gone far beyond the evidence and transmuted conjecture into apparent fact, and in most instances, engaged in a careless misreading of the record. My new book, IN DEFENSE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009), definitively destroys this myth, separating revisionist ideology from accuracy. It is historical hygiene by pen, an attempt to marshal facts, rationally dissect the evidence and prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jefferson is completely innocent of this sordid charge:
    • the virulent rumor was first started by the scandal-mongering journalist James Callender, who burned for political revenge against Jefferson. Callender was described as “an alcoholic thug with a foul mind, obsessed with race and sex,” who intended to defame the public career of Jefferson.
    • the one eyewitness to this sexual allegation was Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s overseer at Monticello, who saw another man (not Jefferson) leaving Sally’s room ‘many a morning.’ Bacon wrote: “…I have seen him come out of her mother’s room many a morning when I went up to Monticello very early.”
    • Jefferson’s deteriorating health would have prevented any such sexual relationship. He was 64 at the time of the alleged affair and suffered debilitating migraine headaches which incapacitated him for weeks, as well as severe intestinal infections and rheumatoid arthritis. He complained to John Adams: “My health is entirely broken down within the last eight months.”
    • Jefferson owned three different slaves named Sally, adding to the historical confusion. Yet, he never freed his supposed lover and companion of 37 years, ‘Sally Hemings’ from her enslavement, nor mentioned her in his will.
    • Randolph Jefferson, his younger brother, would have the identical Jefferson Y chromosome as his older brother, Thomas, that matched the DNA. Randolph had a reputation for socializing with Jefferson's slaves and was expected at Monticello approximately nine months before the birth of Eston Hemings, Sally’s son who was the DNA match for a “male Jefferson.”
    • The DNA match was to a male son of Sally’s. Randolph had six male sons. Thomas Jefferson had all female children with his beloved wife, Martha, except for a male who died in infancy.
    • Until 1976, the oral history of Eston’s family held that they descended from a Jefferson "uncle." Randolph was known at Monticello as "Uncle Randolph."
    • Unlike his brother, by taste and training Jefferson was raised as the perfect Virginia gentleman, a man of refinement and intellect. The personality of the man who figures in the Hemings soap opera cannot be attributed to the known nature of Jefferson, and would be preposterously out of character for him.

    William G. Hyland Jr.
    Attorney at Law
    Tampa, FL.

    andy mahan - 9/18/2006

    I Corinthians 13 is one of the most beautiful truths of the word of God.

    1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
    2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
    3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
    5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
    7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
    9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
    10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
    11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
    12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
    13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    Harold Robert Hunter Jr - 7/9/2006

    Interesting Article about myths of 4th of July. I wonder what it would've been like if the US had lost the war against the British? But things happen for a reason and the colonists won. July 4th is a great holiday and I'll cherish celebrating it until i die

    Harold Hunter Jr, Esq.

    Hunter Law Office, PLLC
    464 Eastway Drive
    Charlotte, NC 28205

    S Anaya - 7/1/2006

    Sontag is good…

    She claimed that white people were the ‘cancer of human history’.

    She said that the 911 Terrorist attacks were not a cowardly act on civilisation, liberty, or humanity. She justified the attacks while the ruins of the World Trade Center still lay smoldering atop the bodies of 2900 innocent civilians.

    She bestowed the ‘virtue’ of courage upon Islamic fanatics, yet in her twisted logic dismisses the word courage as being a morally neutral virtue when spoken by people who didn’t fit into her small world view. Since when has the word ‘courage’ been exclusive of morality? I guess somewhere in the world of Ms. Sontag she was able to successfully extract and apply morality to whatever suited her. Hey, nothing like being a liberal, it allows for the ‘liberal’ interpretation of all words regardless of their meaning, both literal and symbolic. I can only imagine the conversations Ms. Sontag must have had with Mr. Chomsky… ‘…. Let’s see, how can we change this word to mean something less virtuous so that it suits our agenda better?…’, ‘….oh, but we reserve the right to use the word in its true meaning if it will also suit our cause…’. Pinning down liberal thinking is a bit like trying to pick up spilled mercury.

    Ms. Sontag -- A self proclaimed human rights activist and lover of peace who hails Rachel Corrie as a heroine for using herself as a human shield to protect the bombs caches of Palestinian Terrorists. The very bomb caches used to blow up innocent men, women, and children in Israel. I well imagine that there is an Israeli family who doesn’t consider Rachel Corrie to be quite the model of ‘virtue’ that our Ms. Sontag proclaimed her to be. Yet typical of leftist ideologues, the ends justifies the means, so whatever futhers the cause is just alright with them. Never mind that Palestenians blow up innocent civilians, who cares that Saddam murdered 100’s of thousands of his own people… the ‘real enemy’, and listen well all you poor unsuspecting young Students, is the United States of America and the head of the great beast is no other than the evil incarnate, George W. Bush.

    Yes, Sontag was good alright… a good little Marxist who proclaimed America to be the great enemy of human justice and civilisation, while she enjoyed a prosperous and celebratory lifestyle living the very dream of Life, Liberty, and Happiness that still remains just a dream for millions throughout the world.

    I wonder, Mr. NYGuy… will you be teaching both sides of the two headed snake, or just one?

    As far as you’re concerned, Mr. I Have a Different Voice Therefore I’m More Enlightened Than You… I wonder if you were as ashamed of the United Nations when it turned its head away from the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda, or was that just alright with you because George W. Bush wasn’t President of the USA at the time?

    Kevin DeVita - 6/26/2006

    The tone of this piece disappoints me. The authors seem to be in joyful glee that they destroying American myths. Where is the objectivity now?

    Give me the facts. Just don't sound so happy in the telling please.

    Kevin DeVita - 6/26/2006

    The tone of this piece disappoints me. The authors seem to be in joyful glee that they destroying American myths. Where is the objectivity now?

    Give me the facts. Just don't sound so happy in the telling please.

    Kevin Solomon - 7/3/2005

    Often times, fiction can be inserted into truth, and unfortunately, be accepted. When this happens, things get out of hand and historians just have to remember that this isn't true, that is all we can do to pretect the truth.

    E. Simon - 7/4/2004

    If you haven't done so already, Benjamin, I recommend you check out Walter A. MacDougal's essay on the development of the American civic religion. Betsy Ross, the Pilgrims, etc. all obscure the numerous and more relevant narratives that illustrate the country's political development, through the individuals most closely involved in it - Jefferson, Paine, etc. If you consider these (the latter) stories as fulfilling the equivalent need for an American mythology, then I think no amount of revision will allow the essential sense of purpose within them to be degraded. Your second to last paragraph begins to hit on that point, it seems, and is worth exploring further.

    Kenneth T. Tellis - 6/30/2004

    When is someone in the US going to get it right? English Citzens? Pray tell me what an English citizen is?

    American colonists were British subjects, not English citizens. That status has been so, from the Union of Great Britain, meaning Scotland and England. That is why there always occurs the misuse of the term Union Jack. The Union flag of Great Britain, is only a Union Jack when flies on the Jackstaff of a ship, and not otherwise.

    I would to remond Americans, that there has been no Queen of England since 1714. That title has been defunct since the time of Queen Anne.'s death. And Queen Anne held that title, because of the two separate kingdoms. Today Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    Stephen Vinson - 6/29/2004

    "innocent, overmatched Iraqi soldiers"

    A weak bully is still a bully. Last March they met a bigger one.

    >On this 4th of July, think about the 10,000 families that lost civilians in Iraq and the 1000s of innocent, overmatched Iraqi soldiers that were decimated by the American killing machine and never got a chance to reach adulthood.<

    I'll think about it, to the same extent I think of Dresden when I think of World War II. Cyanide gas and plastic shredders take priority.

    Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/29/2004

    And I am not arguing that teachers, historians, tour guides, etc., should intentionally pass on misinformation and myths - they should be as objective as possible and search for truth. However, the myths of our past are anything but "pseudoscience." They are real - they shaped an American character to some degree - and as such, they are fair game for historians to study in order to better understand the nation's past and its character/identity.

    Michael Meo - 6/29/2004

    I'll agree that historical myths are worth study. Pseudoscience is worth study.
    Intentionally propagating a misconception has, for me, nothing of nobility about it. Nor, while I admire Plato (and Strauss too), do I accept his teachings as a valid metaphysical statement of the human condition.
    You are sophisticated enough not to need specific examples of 'noble lies' that got everyone into trouble. It's a slippery slope; we struggle against ignorance, in general, and myths are not our allies.

    Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/29/2004


    Please re-read my post.

    I did NOT state so much that the ends justify the means. I was simply first exploring from a philosophical perspective some observations about the noble lie. Second, I did NOT argue that lies should entirely be perpetuated, but rather we as historians need to examine the historical significance of the creation of these national myths - my post is not meant to be a justification for these myths, but rather a suggestion that these myths are a valid topic for historians to study. These myths arguably played an important role in the young republic as they helped unite an extremely diverse group of people.

    I do believe that these stories, because they have become so much a part of America's historical consciousness and even identity, do have a place in our society - the lesson associated with George Washington's cherry tree incident, for example, does teach a good lesson - one should not lie (an interesting paradox in that a lie teaches children not to lie).

    Of course, as we mature and begin to examine history from a mature perspective, we put away our childish ways - I think my post demonstrates that I am aware of these myths and I have put these childish things away - but not completely, as no mature historian should. As historians, we would be entirely remiss to ignore them completely. Please remember that I did note in my post above that the tour guide SHOULD inform visitors that these stories are not accurate, but again, since these stories are as much a part of the nation's history as the truth, they should still be examined. Do you believe Abrams in my post above to be a child because she wrote an entire book examining some important myths associated with the history of America? I would hope not, because I believe Abrams, among others (e.g., Jill Lepore, James and Patricia Deetz, etc.) are contributing greatly to our understanding of history as they explore the origin of such myths and how those myths shaped the early republic.

    This is how I explain it to my students - and, Michael, I have actually, unfortunately, brought at least one student to tears when she learned that many of the stories her parents and former teachers had told her were lies - when in the classroom, I still meet hostility from some students when I explain to them how Disney gets it so wrong in POCOHONTAS.

    So, please, do not insinuate that I am holding onto my childish ways because I simply note that these stories cannot be ignored - I have actually done my part in revealing many of these myths.

    I hope this is clear - believe me, Michael, I am a strong advocate of finding the truth, not that we ever can - we are, after all, in a cave - and of revealing historical inaccuracies.

    The noble lie is an interpretive perspective of that important part of Book III - yes, associated with Strauss, Voegelin, and Bloom, among others. I believe that particular interpretive model to be accurate - in order for Plato's city in speech to survive it must be founded on a lie. This, along with numerous "inconsistencies" within the work as a whole (e.g., Book V and its comedic elements; Plato's condemnation of mimesis, yet the entire work being one of imitation, etc.) also possibly reveals Plato's beliefs about man's ability, or rather inability, to find utopia.

    Finally, exactly how does the noble lie "hinder real problem-solving"? It is a lie that is noble in that it serves a truly just cause - it brings justice. How does it affect "problem-solving"? What problems, specifically, did American myths prevent from being solved? I am just curious about your line of though here.

    Michael Meo - 6/28/2004

    I do not believe, Benjamin, that the ends justify the means.

    Telling noble lies may help to promote unity but may do more to hinder real problem-solving.

    Perhaps you have noticed that the phrase "noble lie" is most prominent these days as an accusation against the followers of Leo Strauss; as for me, although I think the accusations against the late classicist not well documented, I prefer to practice the prescription of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 11:

    When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.

    (Quoted, of course, for its eloquence, not for its implicit recommendation that we become 'adult' in the Evangelical sense.)

    Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/28/2004

    Plato through the voice of Socrates informs us in Book III of THE REPUBLIC that in order for his city in speech to ever have a chance of existing (it is debatable as to whether or not they believed this utopia could exist - see the comical Book V), a noble or big lie would need to be created to insure that everyone stayed in his or her assigned place in society. Children were to be taught that before they were born certain elements (gold, silver, and bronze) were mixed in with their blood, dictating what occupation they should take on in life - ruler, warrior, or laborer. Only in this manner did Socrates and Plato believe that rulers, warriors, and laborers would not try to become something they were not meant or suited to be and in turn create an unjust society - of course, with the city in speech serving as a macrocosm of the individual's soul, the lesson is clear: each part of the soul must perform its natural duties in order for the individual to have a healthy and just soul.

    In a similar manner, the United States has its noble lies; myths, if you will, that serve to teach its citizens values and to give them stories to bring pride, respect, and loyalty. The article above highlights only a few of the numerous myths that have crossed over to the nation's collective memory. If these myths were to be believed, representative democracy emerged in New England (when arguably it actually emerged with the creation of the House of Burgesses in Virginia - 1619), Pilgrims/Puritans wore black all of the time (they really wore colorful outfits), turkey was served at the "first" Thanksgiving (the first Thanksgiving actually occurred in Virginia, not with the Pilgrims - there is no real evidence that turkey was served at either place; it appears that shell fish, fish, "water fowl," and deer were the primary meats), and Pocahontas was a voluptuous, incredibly sexy vixen who had some sort of love affair with John Smith (actually, when, and if, she saved John Smith's life, she was only around 12 years old, most likely would have had her head shaved, and was NEVER romantically involved with Smith - remember, she married John Rolfe - this part is just for any younger students who are reading this post - Disney got it wrong, sorry). Of course, possibly the greatest noble lie the nation retains is that George Washington cut down his father's cherry tree and then later confessed because "he could not tell a lie." This is a great story that reinforces the importance of character and honesty, but a myth, nonetheless.

    The essay above does correctly recognize myths about the nation's founding. However, what is lacking in the essay, and what I believe we as historians should focus on, is what factors came about to create so many historical misnomers and fallacies. In her work THE PILGRIMS AND POCOHONTAS, Ann Uhry Abrams does an excellent job uncovering the roots of the many myths surrounding the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, Pocahontas, and John Smith. Abrams suggests that the ways in which the two competing founding myths were portrayed in art during the antebellum period reflects the sectionalism the nation experienced during that turbulent time. With the North's victory in the Civil War, it was their representations of the Pilgrims and Pocahontas that survived and dominated, and continue to dominate, the national historical consciousness; it also allowed many Americans to believe that the birth of the nation - or rather that the roots of the birth of the nation - emerged in 1620 with the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. This, of course, is 13 years after the English arrived and established Jamestown and one year after representative "democracy" came to the New World through the House of Burgesses.

    The United States lacks a common religion, race, and ethnicity - three forces that have historically united people and that allowed, or facilitated, the creation of the nation state. So how were Americans to unite? Noah Webster believed that language could unite Americans, so he set out to attempt to create a newer, phonetically more accurate, form of English (see Jill Lepore, A IS FOR AMERICAN). However, in large part, national myths were needed to accomplish what had never been done before: the uniting of an EXTREMELY diverse group of people under one flag - incorrectly attributed to Betsy Ross. The myths that emerged during the early nineteenth century, a time when the fate of the nation was fairly precarious, were attempts to bring these diverse people together (excluding the issues revolving around the founding myths mentioned above, which tended to facilitate sectionalism as North and South fought over which region should lead the nation as they both saw themselves as the true origin of America). These myths also helped to instill in the masses a sense of morality and virtue - something essential to a republic. Were they lies? Many times, yes; but they were noble lies.

    Of course the myths surrounding the 4th of July are extremely important because it was those events surrounding the 4th that in many ways shaped an American character. The words expressed in the Declaration gave, and give, the nation a national creed - an ideology to embrace that would then unite Americans. The national creed, of course, is the belief that ALL men (and women) are created equal. It is the belief in this ideal that has allowed Americans to materialize - no matter what an individual's race, ethnicity, or religion may happen to be, one can become American through birth or naturalization, and the belief in that ideal.

    Does this mean that the perpetuation of these lies should continue? Well, at one level, of course not. We as historians and scholars have a duty to uncover the "truth," or our understanding of "truth." As such, we should not teach these myths as unchallengeable truths. Rather, we as historians should explore the need for these noble lies and learn the morals that our forefathers believed to be so important. In this sense, the tour guide that told the authors of the above essay that even though she knew the story about Betsy Ross to be "phooey" but was still "a good story . . . and one worth telling" was correct - however she should share with her patrons the roots of that story, the lessons to be learned from that story, and the "facts" in that story that are inaccurate.

    NYGuy - 7/5/2003

    Hey Man,

    Don't stop now you are on a roll. But you have left out a few more juicy items to commerate Independence Day.

    How about the one that U. S. soldiers stood around while the Iraq Museum was looted. No, how about this one, I spoke to the Lt. but he said he had to go over and protect the Oil Ministry for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other oil executives. But I want to share my favorite with you, hope you like it. There were these American soldiers, who were part of the christian coalition, working with the muslins, destroying some statues of antique Idols while the rest of the soldier's looked on and applauded.

    Yes, Sontag is good, but I hate to tell you there are others out there who are even better.

    Well, let's hope for a quagmire. That will teach them.

    A different Voice, you certainly lived up to your name.

    I want to show this to my class. I am now teaching them that they must get to know their enemy.

    Hugh Nash - 7/5/2003

    I have read that the Liberty Bell was hauled up what is now the Pennsyvania turnpike to Allentown for safe keeping when British General Howe's troops occupied Philadelphia about Oct 1, 1777. By that time the Bell must have had some prominence. Congress fled the city too.

    A Different Voice - 7/3/2003

    This is from her New Yorker piece after the Sept. 11 incidents. On this 4th of July, think about the 10,000 families that lost civilians in Iraq and the 1000s of innocent, overmatched Iraqi soldiers that were decimated by the American killing machine and never got a chance to reach adulthood. I am ashamed to be an American and even worse is the shame that so many Americans are inured to the butchery that it conducts.

    Backsight Forethought - 7/1/2003

    Observing the quotation marks, I assume that this is a cut and paste of a Sontag article.


    What, pray tell, should a "mature democracy" do in response to the trials in the Middle East? What would Sontag suggest is appropriate for Defense? What should be cut. It is fine to generally suggest cuts, but to do so more directly requires actual thought. Should we cut the P-3 Orions. Certainly debatable. I don't think it is a great idea. What is the alternative view? Sontag deals with "views". "Bromides" too. If the Bush Administration cut back P-3 checks on the coast, and something worse than "views" and "Bromide" occured due to the lack of P-3 flights, I do not believe the subscriptionist would be charitable to the Administration. Indeed, it would be that Bush and Co. were in bed with (place your favourite bogeyman here), and not paying attention to the American borders.

    This outlook is actually getting more tedious the longer it goes on. If the Republicans want to further their hold on Washington, D.C., they can do no better than forward these types of missives. They, and I, don't think they'll play in Peoria.

    A Different Voice - 7/1/2003

    "The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

    Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

    Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be."

    —Susan Sontag courage author, intellectual and patriot

    Mark Thornley - 6/30/2003

    I read recently that this holiday is correctly called Independence Day, not the 4th of July. That makes sense to me, since we aren't celebrating the fourth day of July - we are celebrating the day English citizens declared themselves independent from their leader, King George of England.

    I read the Declaration of Independence every year. It's significance is clear to me when I consider that the signers were not Americans at the time they signed, they were English citizens! Consider the act of bravery it would take today to sign a new declaration of independence from America...

    KEVINKAL - 7/4/2001

    So the Declaration of Independence wasn't written & signed on July Fourth. However, it is the date listed on the Document. It is the date the fathers chose to leave, so who are you to deem it a "Myth"? Should we have an "Independence Week" instead, or maybe an "Independence Decade" since the Revolutionary War lasted 8 years. With all the historical myths that are taught in public schools today, I'd think you could find a few that actually matter rather than attempting to de-ligitimize this special day.