This weekend, Americans across the nation will celebrate the 239th anniversary of our separation from the British Empire. Many of us will enjoy our long weekend in stereotypically American fashion—grilling meat, drinking beer, and filling the sky with explosions.
I love my country, nearly to a fault, but to say that I’m unpleased by recent developments would be a gross understatement. The Fourth of July approaches to demand my patriotic sentiments, but I’m not in the mood.
I’ll be in Boston this weekend. I plan to visit Old North Church, Boston Harbor, and Faneuil Hall—all important places in the history of the American Revolution. There’s a statue of Samuel Adams near Faneuil Hall. Arms crossed, upright, resolute—the sculpture’s posture mimics the character of the man. As I have navigated my discontent and skepticism of the modern American democratic project, Samuel Adams has been a faithful guide.
Adams was, arguably, one of the earliest proponents of American independence, leading protests and separatist movements more than a decade before the Declaration of Independence. Adams, as a champion of both liberty and Christianity (he was a dedicated Congregationalist), would likely share my frustrations. Indeed, the founding father once remarked “How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words”—an invocation that Justice Scalia reprised in his indignant King v. Burwell dissent.
Adams believed in the great American experiment—and he was willing to die for it. Signing his name on the Declaration of Independence, just below the phrase “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,” he knew the risk he was taking—had he been captured, he would have been drawn and quartered, a traitor to the King. With the rhetorical conviction of the revolutionary, he prophetically wrote:
No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign Invaders.
Bold and convincing, Adams has reminded me of the grand ideals that this nation was founded on—liberty, justice, and human flourishing. Most of all, he’s encouraged me. In a sentence that could have been addressed directly to me: “Nil desperandum—Never Despair. That is a motto for you and me. All are not dead; and where there is a spark of patriotic fire, we will rekindle it.”
I’m going to go to Boston to eat lunch in the shadow of Samuel Adams’s statue. And maybe, by Saturday night, I’ll be ready to enjoy the fireworks.
Matthew H. Young is a summer intern at First Things. His writing has been published in Civitas Review, the Carolina Journal, and other publications.