Happy 4th of July! No, seriously.
It's amazing how my own understanding of the 4th has changed over the past quarter century. 25 years ago, July 4, 1996, I was in Chicago; I was a grad student, and I had not thought about the complications of the American founding beyond "well they were all hypocrites, but it still was a Good Thing."
By the next year, things had really begun to change. Moving to Virginia the next year, I came to value and think more deeply about the holiday in years to come. I attended the naturalization ceremony at Monticello; I listened with a kind of bougie liberal piety to the recitation of the Declaration on NPR; about eight years ago, I got more involved in the Charlottesville political scene (which was changing rapidly--the Cville political world now is very, very different than what it was a decade ago, and it's not going back, I think). And through all of this I kept reading and thinking about the American founding.
Despite all the corruptions and hypocrisies, despite what I see as the errors of a too-easy (because possible at all) moral progressivism, despite the fact that it was written by a man who held other humans in bondage, I do think there are energies in the below that I would still affirm:
"May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which Monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self government. The form which we have substituted restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion.
All eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves let the annual return of this day, for ever refresh our recollections of these rights and an undiminished devotion to them."
—Jefferson's last public statement, 1826
And I still love this clip from HBO's series John Adams.
I would also say that necessary reading on the Fourth is Frederick Douglass's famous piece.
And for anyone who wants to know more about this, I would start with Danielle Allen's Our Declaration.
That is all. Happy Fourth, everyone.