July Fourth at Mount Vernon: an All American Celebration

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On this hot and sunny Fourth of July, a crowd gathered on the lawn of Mount Vernon to view an actor in a chestnut brown frock coat and white stockings. Unfolding a large document while simultaneously holding his walking stick, “Benjamin Franklin” peered at the crowd through round spectacles balanced under grey swept-back locks. “It has everything but the signatures,” he tells them, and begins to read the familiar preamble to the Declaration of Independence. 

The viewers, be it in person or on livestream, were reminded that July 4, 1776 stood out in time with no July 4th traditions to precede it; that there was a time when the new Declaration of Independence from the largest empire in its time was fresh and unsigned: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

The historical reenactment pivoting on Benjamin Franklin’s reading of the Declaration’s preamble was just one of the many draws for the crowds on Independence Day at the historical and inspiring venue of George Washington’s home. Guests enjoyed a band playing traditional American songs, additional actors portraying founding fathers and addressing the crowd, and 39 eligible candidates for U.S. naturalization were given the Oath of Allegiance to become U.S. Citizens. 

Mount Vernon, the home of founding father George Washington, has been open to the public since 1860 and hosts reenactments and naturalization ceremonies for new citizens. (Image:Ken Lund via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Written in the language of another age, the Oath continues to move its takers and observers alike, with a total number of new initiates that has now been once again steadily climbing since 2017, averaging over 800,000 just last year. There is something timeless yet fresh in the moment. The Alexandria sun streams on the crowd, well-dressed despite the heat, as the words from another time waft through the air:

“That I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty…That I will support and defend the constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same and that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law…”

When it was over, tears could be seen on faces among the crowd of new citizens, as they were offered many congratulations by their hosts.

“As we celebrate our nation’s 245th birthday…” “Today in taking the Oath of Allegiance …you are gaining important new rights and responsibilities…and in so doing you will help strengthen the nation..

A naturalization ceremony was held at Mount Vernon for xxx new American citizens on the Fourth of July. (Image:  Minnesota National Guard via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Specialist Alexandre Stepan of the United States Army led the Pledge of Allegiance. He expressed how becoming a United States citizen was “a great example for my children, who were born in the United States… It means the world to me that my children will be part of a great military family.” 

An actor portraying General George Washington delivered a speech written in the parlance of the late eighteenth century, which was, by turns, both warm and somber. This reenactment was a thoughtful reflection contributed to by Mount Vernon’s historians, and the advice was both moving and mesmerizing.

“Welcome to my home on this twice happy day. Twice happy, because of course it is the birth of our nation that we celebrate today, but also it is the day that you have all become citizens of the United States of America.. My great grandfather, John Washington was also an immigrant to these shores…I must tell you though, there are prices that must be paid…

These blessings of liberty and freedom that have been given to us by Divine Providence are not free. A democratic public requires that its citizens be active and informed..

Use your active and informed virtue, moderation, and patriotism, so that we may see a continuation of this blessing of liberty.

…but that day, in Philadelphia, the Congress voted not to form a nation like the one they had come from or they had known. At that time all other nations seemed to be commanded by people of absolute power..

This would be a new kind of nation. They believed firmly that we could govern ourselves. And this principle, that we could govern ourselves, meant that we would not have a nation that was ruled by a dynasty or somehow by a religion or some type of “might makes right.” 

Instead, we would have a nation of laws. You are now subject to those laws.

It is my most devout prayer that the Author of life would bless this country and bless all of you, our new citizens. 

..Welcome. Welcome home.”

The Mount Vernon ladies association then invited the new citizens for “A tour of the mansion and to explore the rest of this great site.”

Jessica Lin then sang God Bless America and welcomed her “new brothers and sisters to the United States.”

Historian, president and CEO Dr. Doug Bradburn also addressed the crowd. Mount Vernon has been open to the public since 1860 and entertains an average of one million visitors a year. 

In its very normalcy, tradition, and wholesomeness, the event was a rebuke to troubled times. Those who, to this day, ponder how civilization may declare a sovereign right to repulse tyranny when the time has come that such is required, might recall a line from the preamble to the Declaration as read by the event’s Benjamin Franklin: “To prove this, let the facts be submitted to a candid world.”