By Dave Kopel
National Review Online, July 3, 2002 9:00 a.m. More by Kopel on Passover and the Exodus.
Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, one of the founders of Reform Judaism in America, declared in 1858 that the American Independence Day was a second Passover:
the fourth of July tells us the glorious story of the second redemption of mankind from the hands of their oppressors, the second interposition of Providence in behalf of liberty, the second era of the redemption of mankind, the second triumph of right over might, justice over arbitrary despotism, personal and legal liberty over the power of the strongest and most warlike.
On the Fourth of July and on the Fifteenth of Nissan, an entire people were redeemed into freedom, and through them, a redemption of the world began.
At the Passover Seder, participants are encouraged to pierce the veil of time and recognize what the Exodus accomplished for them, personally. A typical Hagaddah reading affirms:
In every generation, each person must look upon himself or herself as if he or she personally had come out of Egypt. As the Book of Exodus says, 'You shall tell your children on that day: it is because of what the Eternal One did for me when I went forth from Egypt.' For it was not our fathers and mothers alone whom the Holy One redeemed. We too were redeemed along with them.
Likewise, every one of us who today dines at the banquet of American freedom was part of the redemption of July 4, 1776.
A couple of years ago, I suggested exercising your Second Amendment rights as one way to celebrate Independence Day. An equally wholesome activity is using your First Amendment rights. So spend part of the day reading the Declaration of Independence. If you have children, read all or part of it with them; better still, read it out loud. Especially the second paragraph, which is the foundation of free society.
You might also enjoy reading some other inspiring speeches and documents from American history, and sharing them with young people. One of my favorites is Patrick Henry's magnificent speech "The War Inevitable," which led the legislature of Virginia that very day to declare a militia mobilization to resist Great Britain.
Or there's Jonathan Mayhew's magnificent 1750 sermon, "A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers," which explains that resistance to tyrants is a Christian duty.
Or you might want to read Ronald Reagan's 1982 and 1983 "Evil Empire" speeches to the House of Commons and to the National Association of Evangelicals. Describe for your children what the Soviet Union was, and explain how the spirit of freedom in Ronald Reagan's heart enabled him to prophesy what no one else could imagine: the imminent collapse of Communist tyranny. And tell your children that Reagan was mocked by self-proclaimed sophisticates who sneered that it was "simplistic" to call dictatorship "evil."
Finally, the Fourth of July, like Passover, is a festival in which we enjoy good food and drink as a tangible reminder of the blessing of freedom. Today, we are beset by self-appointed national scolds who try to frighten us about eating and to gradually prohibit the responsible consumption of alcohol.
So this year, revive the custom of Fourth of July toasts. From the first days of the republic, it has been customary to drink toasts in honor of our nation on the Fourth of July. Many Independence Day banquets would feature thirteen toasts, in honor of the thirteen original states — and after the thirteen, any guest at the banquet had the right to offer another toast.
On the glorious day of American Independence, join with your friends to offer thirteen toasts (at least) for the United States of America. [Note: A toast-drinker is not required to consume an entire beer, etc., for every single toast.]
Below, arranged by topic, are some toasts from previous celebrations of the Fourth in America. Of course, as a free citizen, you are encouraged to invent some of your own.
The Fourth of July:
The day we celebrate. Cherished by every patriot heart. May the thrilling events which gave it birth be impressed on the mind of every newborn son and daughter of freedom.
The day we celebrate. Its annual return will be hailed with joy as long as the blessings of liberty and national happiness are appreciated.
The Day. May each returning anniversary find the American people more and more convinced of the truth and rectitude of Washington's principles and policy.
To July 4, 1776. The day of the first publication of the unalienable rights of man, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. May we never acquire a new edition.
The Day. Consecrated to the festivity and joy, as long as the American bosom shall expand with the love of liberty.
The Day we celebrate. The birthday of American Independence; duly appreciated, and held sacred by its votaries.
The day we celebrate. It gave birth to American liberty and will always be cherished by free men.
To the Fourth. Sacred to the cause of human freedom throughout the world.
The United States:
The United States. An asylum for the oppressed.
Our Country — our whole Country. After God and our families, the paramount object of our affection.
The United States in Congress.
The United States of America now universally acknowledged free and independent.
The United States. Let their concord of happiness be perpetual.
The United States. May their sovereignty and independence be perpetual.
The American Revolution. Founded upon principle, its origin the source of lasting happiness to millions yet unborn.
The Constitution — which like the air we breathe, unfelt and unperceived, pervades, cherishes, and strengthens a powerful and growing nation, ever-hallowed by the memory of the patriots who had the wisdom to form and the purity to establish it.
The laws and Constitution of the United States. The people's only refuge from anarchy and despotism, they must be maintained at all hazards.
The American system. Embracing the great interests of the country, we can never consent to its abandonment.
May an honest difference of views never be deemed criminal among the patriotic people of a republican land, possessing the charter and inherent rights declared July 4, 1776.
Partisan and political animosity, may they ever be banished from the commemoration of this day.
The union of the states. Frenzied be the head and palsied be the hand that would attempt their dissolution.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence. Their words for our imitation are lasting evidence of their greatness.
Benjamin Franklin. The illustrious, sage and philosopher, and one of the godfathers of our Republic; his name will never fade on her escutcheon.
George Washington. Freedom's model; the world's admiration; man's benefactor.
The memory of Washington. His name his best epitaph.
The memory of George Washington. Encomium would be fulsome; let expressive silence muse his praise.
May freedom and independence exist as the beloved name of Washington, which will never sink into oblivion as long as a son in America is born.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Ex-presidents of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson. The apex of human greatness, whose giant mind projected, and whose hand penned, the immortal Declaration of Independence; his memory will be venerated as long as moral worth and exalted virtues shall receive an approving sentence from the human heart.
General Andrew Jackson. Our chief in war; our ruler in peace.
Our armed forces, past and present:
The officers and soldiers of the Revolution. Whilst we enjoy our rich heritage of civil and religious liberty, may we never forget the noble spirits who bought them with their blood and treasure.
Soldiers of the revolution. Light lie the sods which deck their honored graves.
The Army and Navy. The pride of our country and the shield of our national defense.
The American Tar: Too stubborn to submit to any stripes but those of his flag, or even to be pressed but by the arms of the fair. [A reference to the British impressment of American sailors, which helped precipitate the War of 1812.]
The Army. Extensive as are our boundaries, its brilliant achievements have convinced the world that we have no territory to spare.
The Navy. Its exploits are beyond example; its flag was never lowered to an equal force.
The Militia. Our Country's shield when wielded by a patriot arm and directed by a sound head.
The memory of these heroes who fought and bled for our country. The tears of national gratitude shall ever bedew their graves.
The memory of our fellow-citizens who fell in the late war. Their services are still fresh in our recollections.
Our wars for freedom:
The late war. Commenced in justice and terminated in victory. Americans know their rights, and knowing dare maintain them.
The 8th of January, 1815. A day on which Britain's Invincibles crouched to American valor. [The Battle of New Orleans.]
Our Capitol and capital:
The revival of our capital. Its domes, its sanctuaries, and its temples are rising in strength and beauty above the reach of ruffian torches. [A reference to the burning of the Capital in the War of 1812.]
The city of Washington. While it bears his name, may it cherish his sentiments and revere his virtues.
The city of Washington. May it do honor to the name of its founder.
Our present leaders:
The president of the United States.
The president of the United States. A ruler more respected for his merit than his power, and greater in the simple dignity of his virtues than the proudest monarch on the throne. Our highest station is always for our best men.
Free enterprise and its fruits:
Agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. They will always be cherished in a free country by national spirit, industry, and enterprise.
Agriculture, commerce, and manufacture. They form a tripod on which rests our national greatness. Impair either, and you endanger the whole.
Canals, roads, and bridges. The arteries, veins, and ribs of the political body.
The Locomotive. If that is not original, what is?
Our states and localities:
The Western District of Tennessee. The most desirable part of our state.
Virginia. Thou good old mother of us all, in weal and woe will we stick to thee.
The spread of liberty abroad:
The cause of liberty throughout the world.
Kingcraft on its last legs on the Western continent. May its star soon set in the East.
May a great light appear 'round the city of Warsaw, and a voice be heard saying [Czar] "Nicholas, Nicholas, why persecutest thou sons of freedom?"
The patriots of Poland. We weep for their late unsuccessful attempt to rid themselves of Russian oppression.
The patriots of South America. We cannot but sympathize with those who are struggling for the principles which this day we celebrate. May they build their temple of liberty with American materials.
Grecian Emancipation. In a cause so glorious, she has our best wishes.
The progress of free principles. As they spread throughout the world, thrones and dungeons totter to their fall.
Our civil institutions:
Sunday schools. Christian nurseries of a Christian age — the mighty bulwarks of church and state — terrible to despotism as "an army with banners." Long may they be loved by every pious heart, and fostered by every patriot hand.
Popular education. Knowledge is power; both belong to the people.
American women (usually the 13th toast):
The American fair [ladies]. May they become mothers of a race of free men, that will make kings and emperors tremble, if they interfere with their rights.
The American fair. Merit accompanied with beauty is a jewel set to advantage.
The ladies in attendance today. Virtuous, intelligent, and lovely, language cannot portray their excellence.
The ladies. Ornaments in the nation, the only sure guide of moral and religious duties.
O woman, in our hours of ease, uncertain, coy and hard to please; When pain and anguish wring the brow, a ministering angel, thou.
The fair sex. Dear sweetness of life's bitter cup.
Woman. Americans wear no yoke but hers.
The American fair. Unexampled as wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. May their children and their children's children ever belie the assertion that mankind degenerate in this new world.
The great experiment of self-government.