"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."John Adams of course turned out to be wrong about the date of America's birthday. Given all the hard work Adams put into lining up the 12-0 vote (New York abstaining) on July 2, one can't fault him for his preference for that day. Sadly for Mr. Adams, Americans chose to celebrate July 4, the day Congress approved Thomas Jefferson's eloquent handiwork, the Declaration of Independence.
In the minds of some, though, John Adams was also wrong about predicting and urging Americans to worship God on July 4. After all, isn't Independence Day a purely secular holiday? Not according to Mr. Adams. And, I dare say, not according to most of our Founding Fathers.
Certainly with the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the Constitution of the United States (which forbids religious tests), and the First Amendment (with its establishment and free exercise clauses), the dominant consensus of the Founders was shaped in favor of religious freedom. Based on that legacy, it's certainly appropriate for us today to speak out for the rights of people to practice their own faith (or no faith at all). Nevertheless, the Founders would likely contest any assertion that the United States achieved independence purely on its own efforts. And, with respect, so should we. America had help in its struggle for independence. And, no, I'm not referring to the French!
Most Americans would have agreed wholeheartedly with George Washington, who wrote in 1778: "The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations." Washington shared similar sentiments in his 1789 First Inaugural, when he declared: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."
Washington's sentiments regarding Divine Providence and the debt America owed such Providence were very similar to those held by Mr. Adams, which is why he confidently predicted to Abigail that America's Independence would be celebrated not simply by fireworks, but also with "Acts of Devotion to God Almighty."
While I certainly respect the rights of each person reading this to go his or her own way, I intend to take Mr. Adams up on his advice.