Independence Day from the Eyes of the British

Virginia City 4thOn July 4, 1776, the newly formed United States declared its independence from Britain. In the Declaration of Independence, the country’s founders laid out their grievances with the Crown:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Among the many listed facts: taxation without consent, trial without jury, and quartering of soldiers in the colonies.

Each July 4, we celebrate that independence with parades and picnics, flags and fireworks. Nearly every man, woman, and child dons red, white, and blue in some form or another. It’s the height of American pride. (Although see here for examples of Americans having no idea why we celebrate the Fourth of July or even when and from whom we declared our independence.)

But I’ve never thought to look at the day from another perspective. Until this year.

This Independence Day, my mother and I were entertaining friends from outside of London. We went to Virginia City, Nevada, on July 4. Our choice of locale made the day even more interesting for me and certainly provided our foreign visitors with a unique Fourth of July experience.

Virginia City, Nevada, was a 19th century mining boomtown that, at its peak, had 15,000 residents. The last census indicates there are 855 residents in Virginia City, but another 4,000 in the surrounding county. A man named Samuel Clemens was, in the mid-1800s, a reporter for the local Territorial Enterprise newspaper.  That man, of course, later became known as Mark Twain. “Old west” TV buffs might remember Virginia City from the television show “Bonanza” (NBC 1959-73). Visitors to the town will likely see cowboys and saloon girls on the streets or wooden sidewalks.  Sometimes a “gun fight” breaks out. You can tour an old mine, ride in a stage coach or on a train pulled by a steam engine. On this day, the Fourth of July, were we to stay into the evening, we could attend the Comstock Cowboys’ Second Amendment Concert. The “Old West” is alive and well here.

We came with our British friends because, while they have been exposed to “Bonanza,” John Wayne, and cowboy movies, they do not have such a history in their country.

We arrived in town just before the noon parade. We threaded our way through the throngs of red, white, and blue crowds, periodically popping into the main street stores as we went. Our British friends were curious about the parade.  They said they don’t have such things where they live. Growing up in Milwaukee and then living in Madison as an adult, I’ve become accustomed to Fourth of July parades that include the requisite flags and smattering of local vets, police cars and fire engines, often the Shriners in their little cars, clowns, old cars, and local high school bands, cheerleaders, dance teams, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and a float from the local child care centers with adorable toddlers and preschoolers waving enthusiastically.

This was—and was not—what awaited us in Virginia City. There were the flags and the police cars and the fire engines and what may have been a high school band. There was a large contingent of Harley Davidson riders, revving their engines. But what I noticed as very different was this: Rather than just a few vets there were dozens, ranging from those who served more recently to an entire float of vets who served in Vietnam. Many rode in what looked like military jeeps. A handful of men dressed in Civil War uniforms marched in line, swords resting on their right shoulders. We saw many men and women dressed in period costume from the city’s heydays in the mid-1800s. And there were guns. A lot of guns, many shooting off blanks. The parade emcee joked, “If you have PTSD, this is just a drill.” (I didn’t think that topic was really a joking matter, especially given the number of vets in the parade.)

Our British friends found the parade different and interesting. They took a lot of pictures. I explained the Second Amendment to them, since simply saying “Second Amendment” does not ring bells for them. Likewise for any of the other amendments I mentioned. I explained some of the differences in the celebration between the Virginia City parade and the Midwest celebrations I had seen. For me, spending the day in a slice of the “Old West” brought closer some historic aspects of Independence Day. For our British friends, spending the day in Virginia City brought closer a history they don’t share, but were glad to experience.




This Post Has One Comment

  1. lara scott

    I can see that through this post, people in your place really value your independence day. It is really important to celebrate the result of the effort our fellowmen exerted in order to protect our country and obtain freedom. We really don’t know how they went through during that time of struggle.

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