Hoorah For The Fourth Of July ! – A Brit’s Eye View Of Independence Day
On the Fourth of July 1776, King George the Third of England made only one very short entry in his journal. It said “Nothing of any importance happened today”. This was not because he was ignorantly dismissing the events in the largest and richest of his colonies, of course. Any news, no matter how earth shattering, took weeks to get anywhere back in 1776. He was being ignorant, but it was the blissful ignorance that comes from simply not being in possession of the facts.
As we all now know, something of very great importance was happening on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. America had declared its independence, a nation was being born and nobody there would have to sing “God Save The King” ever again.
Not that many Englishmen were that keen on singing “God Save The King” at the time either, mind you. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the King was German. Secondly, he was quite, quite mad. He used to talk to trees, and not in a fun, “Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon” kind of way. King George talked to the trees and they did listen to him. He had many very animated and detailed debates with them.
King George’s precarious state of mind was dramatically re-created in the film “The Madness Of King George, so if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know exactly how made we’re talking here. (Incidentally, the movie was called “The Madness Of George III” when it was released in Britain, but it was decided to change the title for its release in The States. Apparently, it was thought that the original title would have many Americans puzzling as to who the hell George was and why they had not been allowed to see the previous two films in the series “The Madness of George” and “The Madness of George II”. I’ve always thought that this was a rather patronizing decision, but evidently it was backed up by solid market research).
The main reason that not many Englishmen were keen on singing “God Save The King” in 1776 was far more obvious though. It’s an awful, dreary song. Why Samuel Francis Smith decided to steal the score of this awful dirge when he penned “My Country Tis Of Thee” is beyond me. Maybe he was making some sort of political point. It couldn’t possibly be because he thought the tune was catchy. Not unless he was tone deaf.
The fact is that he did steal that tune though, and millions of Americans will be drunkenly singing at barbecues tonight, along with the actual National Anthem of course. Though there are some Americans who seem to be under the impression that “My Country Tis Of Thee” is the National Anthem, especially when they’ve had one too many Budweisers. A little bit of a worry, but as long as you’re being patriotic I don’t suppose it matters too much.
And America will have patriotism coming out of its ying-yang tonight. There’ll be music, merriment, fireworks and hot dogs into the wee small hours, no doubt, to mark that historic Declaration of Independence.
Let’s not forget though, that fine sentiments inked onto parchment do not a nation make. America did not spring forth fully formed on the Fourth of July 1776. America had to suffer the bloodiest Civil War in history before it could truly declare its nationhood.
As a Brit, I have to grudgingly admit that the world would be a worse place without America in it. As a nation, America has many faults, but what nation doesn’t? So, I am going to think of tonight’s celebrations as, in some small way, a tribute to the lives that helped make America what it is today, however tragically short some of those lives may have been. I think that’d be best.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014