The Other Fourth

July Fourth has always been special. When I was a boy, it meant hot dogs and fireflies, fireworks and fun. As I grew into adulthood it came to have a deeper meaning. Today I find that meaning deepening still further, because to me, there are two July Fourths. The 1776 Fourth is a celebration of one kind of freedom: liberation from the tyranny of a foreign power, and an assertion of our right to govern our own destiny as an independent people. The other Fourth, for me, is a celebration of a deeper level of freedom — one not from external oppression but from internal limitation. A celebration not simply of our right but also of our capacity to self-govern. I love the 1776 Fourth, because I deeply love this country, its inspiring, unnerving, enthralling, and exasperating aspirations for genuine self-determination. I’m ineffably proud to be a part of it, to be of it, woven from its fabric. To be an American. But I have come even more to appreciate and be in love with that Fourth that came fifty years later, after we had gone through a full half-century of practice in exercising that freedom. Not the 1776 one — the 1826 one. On that day, a friendship that helped give birth to this national experiment, and then over the following years seemed to do its level best to pull that experiment to pieces, arrived at its peaceful and magnificent final moments. The two friends could not have been more different. One, a scrappy lawyer from Massachusetts, was built of rugged New England stock and all the passionately held views that...