Americans will gather this Wednesday to celebrate the 225th birthday of American independence. In the midst of all the July 4th barbecues, fireworks, waving flags and national gestures of patriotism, many citizens will drink and toast to friends and family. But as part of the festivities, Americans also should raise a glass to the men and women who fought for freedom, sacrificed their lives, and embodied the spirit of 1776.
The greatest toasts for celebrating the Fourth of July began with the same generation of freedom fighters, tough guys, and deep thinkers who put their quills to wrinkled parchment for the Declaration of Independence and hoisted long-rifles to their shoulders. Their toasts offer an insight into what those true revolutionaries were fighting for — and what is needed to defend liberty.
American toasts were great because Americans had plenty of opportunities to praise or condemn with drink in hand. Taverns were at that time centers of good fellowship as well as civic life. The Green Dragon Inn in Boston was the center of revolutionary activities of Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock. Colonials wiled away the evening in hardy political discussions about the cause of liberty, the importance of a defiant people, and vigilantly commenting on the encroaching nature of power in the hands of elites.
The American fear of unlimited government and corrupt special interests is an old one and was signaled by one of the most popular toasts of 1776: "May stipenders and pensioners never sit in an American senate." "Stipenders" and "pensioners" were 18th century terms for bureaucrats, parasites, lobbyists, and anyone else who sought private gain from the public coffers.
The patriots understood that the fight for freedom is never over. Liberty is dependent on the rule of law: "May Justice support what courage has gained." Freedom also abhors special interests, privilege, and government elites who lived above the people. That's why they toasted: "Freedom from mobs as well as kings." When Gen. George Washington said farewell to his men, they toasted to: "The Whigs of America. May they, as free Republicans, always prefer their own plain coat to the gorgeous attire of Royalty and Slavery."
The founding generation of Americans understood what many Beltway insiders often forget today: economic freedom and independence are intertwined. The Sons of Liberty often raised their glasses, saying, "May the liberties of America never be clipped by the shears of bad economy." They believed that in times of economic travail or need, politicians move against liberty by offering quick fixes and popular quackery if the people will just let government take a little liberty and distribute what they earn.
The toast became such a regular part of life, it soon became an art in itself, signaling the bravado and fearless self-reliance that would soon be known as the American character forged in freedom.
Benjamin Franklin schooled European diplomats in the tavern skills of the American heart and liver. While emissary to France during the Revolution, Franklin squared off against Europe's best toastmasters — men polished in the art of fine talking, courtly manners, and unctuous praise for those in power.
One evening, the British ambassador to Versailles led off. He, of course, toasted his king: "George the Third, who, like the sun in its meridian, spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world."
The French minister, not to be outdone, toasted the French king: "The illustrious Louis the Sixteenth, who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe."
Without missing a beat, Franklin raised his glass and toasted, "George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed."
Americans had every reason to be proud of the self-made men who cut a nation out of wilderness and then defeated the most powerful military on earth. They were the most educated, least taxed generation ever. And they refused to give up control of their destiny or their labor to Britain's sycophantic ministers and tax-hungry special interests to defend them in Parliament.
After the revolution, one of the most popular of all toasts was to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. That document announced America's entrance onto the world's stage, like thunder. For decades after, men toasted and drank hard, saying:
From this act of treason against the British Crown sprang a chart of Liberty and Emancipation broad as the universe and filled with glad tiding and good will towards men. They who periled their lives by this noble act will live and be cherished in the hearts of free men.
July 4th is an ideal time to not only honor friends and family, but also the men and their love for liberty that began with raising their glasses to an idea and ended with them risking their lives for posterity.