"Jefferson lives." No one knows whether John Adams' last words were a question, a symbolic hope, maybe a prayer, or something else, perhaps also rhetorical.
Thomas Jefferson's last words, also spoken the same day that Adams uttered his in 1826, were "This is the Fourth." While most historians claim they were a question, I'm going to employ some poetic license and suggest they were a statement. That would be more fitting to the man who gave life to the words that would eventually become a grand nation, a struggling concept, and a spiritual quest.
Ultimately, I want to think that quest was to give a corporeal answer to the question Plato proposed Socrates asked some 2,200 years earlier, and that had always plagued humankind: "What is justice?"
Of this we are absolutely certain: the Fourth of July does not mark the birth of the United States of America. Indeed, that the 13 individual colonies, jealously wary of each other, were only less admiring of the idea of remaining the poor servant of a privileged monarchy miles distant across a vast ocean and who was at the same time wholly removed from any regard for the welfare of those colonies than they were of some national yoke to each other.
There was no census in 1776. No surveys of public opinion. Nonetheless, we know that not everyone was enamored of the idea of open rebellion against Great Britain. The best guess estimates suggest those composing the colonies fell into three approximately equal opinions: Those who had a vested economic interest in remaining British, those who had a vested interest severing all ties with the crown, and those who for whatever reasons weren't eager to sway one way or the other.
Among both the first and the latter assemblages must have been the timid souls, preferring to not rock the boat, to trust to prayer and to divine providence, and to just go wherever the winds might blow them. I say that because there have always been such sad, demoralized and demoralizing ilk throughout human history. They have never been the stock of human progress, and most assuredly are not to be admired, regardless whatever social pinnacle they may have reached.
So it's to the second group who quite seriously pledged to each other their "Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor" that we owe everything. Those 56 who bravely did so, did so full in the knowledge that were the adventure thus begun to fail, as Benjamin Franklin wryly observed, "We shall hang together, or surely we shall all hang separately."
In other words, the delegates from the colonies had gathered and signed what could have been a warrant for their deaths, signed one of the world's great masterpieces in prose, but what, when it's shorn of all pretense, was a unified flashing of the bird to the King of the world's most powerful country. And THAT my friends is what it means to be an American! It's that Howard Beale moment when we run to the window to shout, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any longer!" It's a mass "Screw You, you sonofabitch! Come and get me. But if you do, just be ready for one hellova fight!"
And I want to know: What's happened . . . to us, and to U.S.?
We're sheep. We're children. More interested in being entertained. More worried about getting along than getting it right. Don't try to tell me what I have a right to know, or what I need to know, to be a citizen. Tell me what will make me happiest.
And ya know: I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news. And maybe they're one and the same. Whether it's today, this afternoon, or tomorrow, or 20, 50 years from now, you're still going to die. And when you do, you're going to be very dead for a very long time. While you do not know whether there's really a heaven you'll repair to, you know absolutely that at least the very, very dead part is very, very true. So what the heck are you so damned worried about? Why not clench that fist, thrust it into the air and damn it! claim your right, as an American - Let the moneyed interests and the politicos know that for healthcare, for education, for equal treatment regardless of anything, for preservation of the climate and our air and our lakes and our streams, for so much more that all of us and all our progeny have an undivided and indivisible interest in that we're "Mad as hell and we're not going to take it any longer!"
Be an American! Again. It's time. It's the Fourth! Live like it is.