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Independence, Empire Don’t Mesh

July 7, 2009
Alan Bock

Independence - EmpireI have learned enough surprising things about American history that I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be more one of those comforting myths than undisputed history, but when I was a schoolboy I distinctly remember hearing that it used to be the custom on the Fourth of July in towns across America for people to gather in the town square or park for patriotic band music and family picnics, highlighted by some prominent citizen reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. I never experienced it myself, though I suspect I am of a vintage earlier than many readers. But I grew up in a smallish town in Southern California rather than in the Midwest. In high school in the 1950s I played in the town band during the summer, and we did rousing marches, 19th-century operetta overtures and patriotic medleys, but nobody read the Declaration, though I think the mayor gave a brief talk lauding America.

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