As the United States heads towards its 241st birthday, Arkansans are stocking up on charcoal and propane, and business is booming at the fireworks stands.
John Adams, our second president, foresaw all this celebratory hoopla even as he was helping to craft the Declaration of Independence.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated … as the great anniversary festival,” he wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
“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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward,” he said.
In Arkansas, John Adams would be delighted with our celebrations in this state. We celebrate our independence from one corner of the state to the other, from Beebe, Bentonville, Bismarck and Bull Shoals to Colt, Mount Ida, Siloam Springs, Corning and Piggott.
One of the great traditions is the Fourth celebrations in northeast Arkansas. Cities like Piggott, Corning and Portia are places that families and politicians love to go.
Every governor for the past fifty years has attended the event.
I went to my first picnic in 1986, and I have attended periodically since then. I was there during my campaign for governor in 2014, so maybe Piggott is a key to success.
July 4th at Piggott offers the chance to celebrate in the small-town family-friendly way many of us remember the Fourth of July.
The picnic began in 1936 as a fundraiser for the Piggott Cemetery. Fred Ort is president of the Cemetery Association, which receives about $30,000 from the picnic every year. Organizers expect as many as 4,000 people this year. Remember, the population of Piggott is only 3,800.
The picnic is an all-day affair that starts with a parade that travels from the city square to Liberty Park. This year, for the 90th anniversary, the parade will include veterans from every war and conflict since World War II. Kids ride their bicycles. Farmers drive their antique tractors. For seventy years, the Choate family from Searcy brought their carnival to the picnic.
Mayor Jim Poole has lived in Piggott since he was 12, but his grandparents moved there in 1922, long before the founding of the picnic. He has been to most of them, and he says, “It’s almost Christmas in July.
“Out-of-towners come home for family reunions and class reunions. I still get excited, just like when I was a kid. I can’t get that out of my system.”
Many of us still feel the same way about July 4th. My family will share hamburgers and homemade ice cream.
It is clear from John Adams’ letter to his wife that he understood the price of what the founders had set in motion. And his optimism is clear.
He said, “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”
We can celebrate the Fourth of July because of leaders such as John Adams.