While cleaning a closet shelf, I found an old special section from this newspaper on American presidents.
The information contained highlights, differences and achievements among these men (someday there will be a woman), but each contributed to the fabric of this country. So, as we celebrate July 4th today, here are some reminders of America's early presidents.
George Washington was viewed as wise and an experienced soldier. The "chopped down cherry tree" story, which may be just a legend, reminds us that truthful leaders are still appreciated.
Our holiday really should be on July 2nd. That was the day that the Continental Congress voted for independence from Britain, but, according to many sources, it was not approved until July 4th. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, America's second president, John Adams, wrote, "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."
Other sources suggest that the document wasn't officially signed until August. Regardless, July 4th is the symbolic day of our country's founding. We celebrate it in a variety of ways, many of which are not terribly different than those envisioned by our second president, who sought more military preparation and spending and was the first to reside in the White House.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, known as the author of our Declaration of Independence, established the United States Military Academy at West Point. The slave trade was outlawed during his term, but he is also known for his long-term relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave, with whom he had five children.
Our fourth president, James Madison, was in office during the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the Capitol and the White House. Few of us recall that the British and Americans once fought in what is now the heart of our nation.
James Monroe, our fifth president, served during a time without a war and strife. He is often remembered for the Monroe Doctrine, which was proposed during his State of the Union address in 1823. It became American foreign policy in 1850, saying European nations could not colonize independent countries in North and South America. Old policies have long lives. In May 2019, National Security Advisor John Bolton invoked the Monroe Doctrine regarding Russia's interest in Venezuela.
During the term of our sixth president and first son of a former president, John Quincy Adams, party politics became dominant. Adams remained a Republican, but Andrew Jackson, his opposition, became a Democrat and was elected as the seventh president. Jackson is famous for stating "to the victors belongs the spoils" or acknowledging that winning a political race entitles the winner to much more than the elected office.
Three of the first five presidents died on July 4th. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both died exactly a half-century after the birth of our country, and James Monroe died five years later.
Aside from celebrations and hot dogs, Independence Day reminds us that presidents and situations have changed and will continue to do so, but that our country has endured and will continue to do so. Happy July 4th.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.