Suitably in time for July 4th, the United States' early history edged into the public spotlight, although in a slightly comical way.
Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann named John Quincy Adams a Founding Father although he was eight when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the 235th anniversary of that event we are now celebrating.
She said the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery when in fact the subject was so divisive they worked tirelessly to avoid it.
Maybe presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave a fanciful recreation of Paul Revere's ride complete with nonexistent shots and bells and had the silversmith patriot warning the wrong side.
But we mention these potential contenders to head the country that the Founders devised back in 1776 only because of their prominence. Aside from scholars and history buffs there are probably few among us who could give a straightforward, accurate narrative of the events that caused a thin strip of colonies on the Atlantic coast to turn their backs on the world's most powerful nation.
This July Fourth many newspapers are running a selection of the questions from the test for would-be U.S. citizens. Try it. You may find yourself mildly embarrassed and more kindly disposed toward Bachmann and Palin.
True, as the Tea Party's celebration of the wanton destruction of private property tells us, there were economic causes to the American Revolution but the driving force was an idea, encapsulated in one of the best known sentences in the English language:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."9 comments on this story
This was a novel concept in the 18th century, when emperors, kings and czars felt it was the duty of the subjects to make the monarch happy. The idea that ordinary citizens should pursue their own happiness was indeed revolutionary.
One signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams (unlike his son a real Founding Father), urged his fellow citizens to celebrate the glorious Fourth by going out and having a blast — literally, since among the forms of observance he urged were fireworks and guns.
While we are celebrating this July Fourth we should also resolve to start studying it. Have a happy Fourth.