This Independence Day, Celebrate the Tree, Not the Tank

©. Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Washington/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Instead of the rocket's red glare and bombs bursting in air, remember the Liberty Tree.

As tanks prepare to drive through Washington and B2 bombers to fly over it, perhaps it is time to remember what might have been a more appropriate symbol of liberty and revolution: the tree.

Wikipedia Commons

Stephen Messenger wrote in TreeHugger about how an elm tree in Boston became an important symbol: "In 1765, a secretive group of American patriots known as the Sons of Liberty organized a very public demonstration to protest the law, and they chose that elm tree as their meeting spot -- earning it the name 'Liberty Tree'."

Inspired by that humble tree which had become emblematic of freedom, new Liberty Trees came to be designated across the original colonies as places for early advocates of independence to meet. Indeed, the revolutionary ideals of those in attendance at such gatherings, like Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock and Patrick Henry, were very likely born in the shade of an elm.

Loyalists chopped the original one down in 1775, and Thomas Paine wrote a song in its memory, complaining about the tyrannical powers that did the deed:

But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;
From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,Through the land let the sound of it flee,Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,In defense of our Liberty Tree.

Stephen Messenger concluded that perhaps this tree is a better symbol of the revolution and the holiday.

In light of history and the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence, trees in particular just may be a more fitting monument to tenets of democracy than the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, or any such site -- for they are as stoic and timeless as our inalienable rights. It's a wonder then that shooting fireworks, not planting trees, became Independence Day tradition. After all, bombs bursting in air may have won us our liberty once, but freedom can still be found in the shade of an elm.

After my annual rant about fireworks, a commenter gave a reason for doing it, quoting the future President John Adams writing in 1776:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
liberty tree print photo
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But perhaps we would be better off remembering something Adams said much later in life: "The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough."

We don't need tanks and guns and bombs bursting in air. Walk humbly. Go sit under a tree.