America refers to a family covenant, which is given by fathers to their children. It’s entered by the children by submitting to its traditions, not abstract invocations.
What to Americans of 2026 will be the Fourth of July? The 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is only four years away, but those years seem set to be decisive, when we consider the future of our country. One can imagine there being, after a right-wing win of the White House, grand celebrations nationwide, akin to the bicentennial of 1976–an effort to recreate a common language for America. Or perhaps, with a compromise victory, a conciliatory small-c conservative president, there would be a cheerful and festive, but most importantly normal, acknowledgment of the date, an appropriate speech, fireworks, the cookout price a little lower than the year before. But one can also imagine, quite easily, looking to the left, the United States of America turning 250 with little official fanfare, if not outright opprobrium, and only local special celebration.
Indeed, such a forgetting, this potential passing over of memory, has already happened. Where was the nationwide rejoicing in November and December of 2020 or Thanksgiving 2021 that Providence had preserved the hope of our Pilgrim fathers for 400 years? With barely a murmur, the four-century mark that North America was not only viewed as an exploitable New World, but also as a land promised to prosper and settle in went by without a trace. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. The first experiment in self-government on these shores, the Mayflower Compact, was signed November 21, 1620. The Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor on December 16 of that year. The First Thanksgiving was in 1621.
It will be objected that the Pilgrims are hardly as important to our national identity as the Declaration of Independence, that though we may have moved to forget one we will surely not forget the other. After Abraham Lincoln’s Gloss of the Proverb the Declaration, with its universalist propositions is, one might argue, the “apple of gold” in the Constitutional set of silver. It is this tie that unites us as people. The Pilgrims are just one thread in our multi-stranded tapestry. Let us respond with another Lincolnism. We will look at his Lyceum Address, from which much of American civic piety (or “political faith”) has come. Lincoln said: “I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another.”
The American people is not made by the American government, or by American propositions; it preceded the form of our republicanism. Lincoln asked his listeners to make the American Constitutional system, as well as the American Declaration, their choices.
So though I am grateful for the sign of union and continuity celebrated by the “Star-Spangled Banner,” there is another old song that would be more appropriate as our national anthem. America the Beautiful distills the continent’s inheritance, pioneer and pilgrim stories and makes Americans American. It also prays for the blessings that every country needs. O beautiful for pilgrim feet/ Whose stiff impassioned stresses, / A thoroughfare to freedom beat / Through the wilderness / America! America! God will heal your every fault, / Strengthen your soul with self-control,/ Your liberty in law!” This song reflects the specificities of American history. It focuses on the importance of civic piety, the roots of America in English Christian civilization and its expansion westward.
My personal American pilgrimage has not been westward, but east to D.C. from Washington State. Friends were my Fourth of July, whether they be college friends or new acquaintances. Many toddlers, as well as a few newborn babies were there to celebrate their Independence Day. The birthday celebration of our government’s form was made more special by this time spent in community. This is because I already loved the country back home through Fourth of July. My parents brought my nieces with them to the parade. The mountains were visible, and the ocean was only one hour away. I could see the Columbia silently passing, its trees tall, straight, and green. So were my Independence Days, so was my childhood. I loved the country and was able to appreciate it by loving.
about the author
Micah Meadowcroft is managing editor of The American Conservative. He is also a 2021-22 Robert Novak journalism fellow for the Fund for American Studies. Prior to joining TAC, he was White House Liaison for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and helped with speechwriting. A graduate of the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in sociology, he has also written on political theory. Previously, he worked as associate editor of the Washington Free Beacon. He is now in his second tenure at TAC. Not too long ago, he worked as an editor assistant. He graduated from Hillsdale College with a BA in history and a minor in journalism. Micah is from the Pacific Northwest and, like Odysseus, hopes to one day return home after a long period of exile in East.