Passages: A People's History of the United States

From Howard Zinn's fascinating look at American history through the eyes of the conquered, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised:

Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the role of a new, privileged leadership.

When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have received over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command.

Independence Day isn't just a time to remember where the nation has been, but to proudly know we can do better. The Founding Fathers spoke with lofty phrases about equality, even as they considered those men and women who look like the current president to be worth 3/5 of a white man, and that they and white women weren't allowed to vote. July 4th is a day to realize just how far we've come and how far we will always need to go, not to wish we were still back there.