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The Best Fourth of July Speech in American History

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The most remarkable Independence Day oration in American history was not given on the Fourth of July. And it is little remembered today. But it deserves to be. Independence Day is rightly a time to celebrate the nation’s history and even kick back for a little R&R. But the best orators who have marked the day have understood that our nation’s laurels are not meant to be rested on.

Fourth of July speeches tend to divide into two sorts. The predominant variety is commemorative, celebratory, and prescriptive—solemnized, as John Adams predicted in 1776, “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

But in his exuberance, Adams failed to anticipate that the Fourth, as it brought Americans together, would continually threaten to tear them apart. Over the years, celebrations of the Fourth have become a periodic tug of war between commemorations designed to affirm and even enforce the common identity of Americans—out of many, one—and subversive pushback from those obstreperous enough to insist that we are not all free, emphatically not all equal, and certainly not one.

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Remember Frederick Douglass’ Cry for freedom. Image courtesy of Everett Historical / Shutterstock.

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