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Independence Days past

Over the years, the Fourth of July has sparked discussions of firecrackers, warships and the French.

July 04, 2009

The Los Angeles Times has been publishing tributes to Independence Day on its editorial pages for more than 120 years. Mostly these have taken the form of paeans to the founding fathers or the Declaration of Independence, but in some years editorialists past strayed to other topics, such as fireworks, war weariness and, in at least one instance, a public appeal: On July 4, 1943, The Times urged Angelenos to buy war bonds to fund a warship named after the city. The cruiser Los Angeles was in fact commissioned two years later, though that was too late for service in World War II; it did see significant action in the Korean War.

Herewith some of the things earlier generations had on their minds on the anniversary of the nation's founding. Note the dramatic change in The Times' position on fireworks and young boys between 1905 and 1989, compelling evidence that the turn of the 20th century was more fun than the turn of the 21st.

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"Sense and Sanity," 1905

We hear a great deal of talk about saneness and sensibleness in observing "The Fourth." Some of it is true; some of it is sane; some of it is sensible.

But some of it, if we may be allowed the expression, is dod-gasted hogwash.

Needless to say, the American boy -- whatever may be his age -- should be careful not to hurt himself with the fire-crackers and fizzers and things. To be careful is both sane and sensible. The American boy is made of stuff that is too good to be bunged up needlessly. He has use for all the eyes he has; he needs ten fingers, and as many toes, and all the other appendages that go to make up a first-class boy.

But an American boy without vim, dash, and the boy-quality of patriotism (if such a boy can be imagined) would not be of much account. We cannot make the American boy entirely sane and sensible and quiet on Independence Day. If we could, we should spoil him.

Therefore, while throwing about the American boy, today, all the restrictions that seem necessary for his own good and the good of the community, let us not be too all-fired particular about keeping the lid shut down tight with a big fat policeman sitting upon it.

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"Today," 1917

O mother land of our love, the prophecy of your continued progress in all forms of excellence is graven in golden characters upon the breasts of the adamantine mountains and written on "sweet fields arrayed in living green."(William_Walker) In the roar of our cataracts, in the rush of our rivers, in the monotones of our oceans sounds the voice which proclaims America the mightiest of earth's nations. What our fathers gained 141 years ago we shall never lose; never while Shasta defies the artist's pencil, never while the Valley of the Angels woos the poet's lyre, never while the Sierras lift their snowy summits to the skies, never while the groves of Calaveras raise to the clouds their giant forms, mantled with the awful majesty of innumerable ages, never while Yosemite stands wedded to God with her bridal lace of falling waters.

Hail and all hail to our country! May she ever remain as now secure in the brave hearts and the invincible arms of her sons!

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"The Best Celebration," 1921

There was a time in the not very remote past when the favorite sport of the Fourth of July orator was twisting the British lion's tail. The speeches were bellicose. It was an occasion for the rebirth of the fighting spirit. Some nation was alluded to as having sinister designs on American territory or American liberty. Uncle Sam was portrayed with a chip on his shoulder, sometimes on both shoulders, and the orator delighted in daring any other nation to knock it off. No one could love his country who didn't hate some other country. Our great national heroes were military men. No war, no heroes.

Since those ebullient days the world has had a close view of international conflicts. There was little personal glory and much bloodshed and misery. About one-fourth the accumulated wealth of the world was wasted, a generation was decimated, civilization came near crumbling under the shock. The martial spirit proved more deadly than any pestilence that has ever swept the earth, and the aftermath of the conflict was worse in some countries than the war itself.

So the popular speaker this year will not be the one who rattles his saber in its scabbard, who recounts how many peoples we have defeated and how many more we are getting ready to fight. Education and experience have changed our views in relation to our neighbors. We are more concerned in preserving our national patrimony than in making new territorial conquests. We shall never again take pride in armed isolation. Our mental horizons have widened and we perceive the unavoidable interdependence of the peoples of the world. A sane internationalism has replaced the insular spirit.

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"How to Celebrate the Fourth," 1943

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