Before you head to the grill, the pool, the fire pit, or the beach this weekend, take just a moment to reflect on the magnanimity of the Fourth of July with us. Penned by Mark Twain, posted to Walt Whitman, the letter below is a breathless tribute to human–American!–accomplishments, and it is one of the many spirited, poignant writings included in Why Freedom Matters, a collection of poems, essays, speeches, letters, and songs edited by Daniel R. Katz for The Declaration of Independence Road Trip.
Today we honor those who serve our country, who have died for our freedom, those who have made this country a better place with inventions, ideas, resolve, and courage. May your day today be complete with too much barbecue (or grilled veggies), vivid (but under control) fireworks, the company of family and friends, and a renewed sense of patriotism. We wish you a safe and festive Fourth of July!
May 24, 1889
To Walt Whitman:
You have lived just the seventy years which are greatest in the world’s history and richest in benefit and advancement to its peoples. These seventy years have done much more to widen the interval between man and the other animals than was accomplished by any five centuries which preceded them.
What great births you have witnessed! The steam press, the steamship, the steel ship, the railroad, the perfect cotton-gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the photograph, photogravure, the electrotype, the gaslight, the electric light, the sewing machine and the amazing infinitely varied and innumerable products of coal tar, those latest and strangest marvels of a marvelous age. And you have seen even greater births than these; for you have seen the application of anesthesia to surgery-practice, whereby the ancient dominion of pain, which began with the first created life, came to an end on this earth forever; you have seen the slave set free, you have seen the monarchy banished from France and reduced in England to a machine which makes an imposing show of diligence and attention to business, but isn’t connected with the works. Yes, you have indeed seen much—but tarry for a while, for the greatest is yet to come. Wait thirty years, and then look out over the earth! You shall see marvels upon marvels added to these whose nativity you have witnessed; and conspicuous above them you shall see their formidable Result—man at almost his full stature at last!—and still growing, visibly growing while you look. Wait till you see that great figure appear, and catch the far glint of the sun upon his banner; then you may depart satisfied, as knowing you have seen him for whom the earth was made, and that he will proclaim that human wheat is worth more than human tares, and proceed to organize human values on that basis.