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The Freedom Season

Americans should celebrate what connects Juneteenth and the Fourth of July.

President's' Day Honored In Nation's Capital
(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Today the nation marks the third year of Juneteenth being a federal holiday. The first official observation occurred in 2021, just days after Congress passed legislation that simply directed the United States Code to be “amended by inserting after the time relating to Memorial Day the following: ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19.’”

Juneteenth marks the anniversary of Union General Gordon Granger arriving in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865—more than two months after the end of the Civil War—where he informed the people of Texas of the terms of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. General Granger’s act brought freedom to more than 250,000 people still enslaved in Texas. For more than 150 years after that event, African Americans have celebrated this date as the end of slavery.


Remarkably, Juneteenth is just two weeks before the Fourth of July, the date our Founders signed the document that set forth the principles on which the country was founded. It was those principles that ultimately led to the event Juneteenth celebrates. Consequently, though not intentionally, Congress has established what should be recognized officially as a season of freedom, which now marks the start of every American summer.

In the House debate over the Juneteenth legislation, the relationship between these two holidays lurks in the background, as does the importance of Lincoln as the indispensable link between them. Lincoln is mentioned fourteen times in the debate.

For example, the bill’s lead sponsor, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, said “Juneteenth...made real to the last persons living under the system of chattel slavery, of human bondage, the prophetic words of President Abraham Lincoln delivered November 19, 1863, at Gettysburg ‘that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...’” Indeed, what is commemorated on Juneteenth is precisely what Lincoln ordered in the Emancipation Proclamation, specifically that “all persons held as slaves [in states in rebellion against the United States] ...shall be free.”

The only real point of contention in the Juneteenth floor debate was the naming of the holiday as the “Juneteenth National Independence Day.” Some Republicans expressed concern that the name might lead to confusion with the July 4 Independence Day holiday. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence of Michigan countered that “[g]etting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves. It is not a day that you can loop together.”

While the first part of Congresswoman Lawrence’s point is certainly correct, I suggest that the two dates are indeed “looped together.” There simply would not have been a Juneteenth had there not first been an Emancipation Proclamation, and there would not have been an Emancipation Proclamation had there not first been an Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s understanding of what took place on July 4, 1776.

For Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence was everything. Speaking in Illinois in 1858, Lincoln declared: “Now, my countrymen, if you have been taught doctrines conflicting with the great landmarks of the Declaration of Independence...if you have been inclined to believe that all men are not created equal in those inalienable rights enumerated by our chart of liberty, let me entreat you to...come back to the truths that are in the Declaration of Independence.” A year later, Lincoln observed that Thomas Jefferson had included in the Declaration “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times,...that [would] be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”

While Lincoln understood the Declaration’s principles applied to everyone, everywhere, and at all times, his contemporaries, including his campaign opponent Stephen Douglas and Southerners such as South Carolina Senator John Calhoun, did not. They rejected (and in some cases even condemned) the plain meaning of the Declaration of Independence. But Lincoln’s view won, and as a result, because of the principles in our Declaration, American slavery lies on the ash heap of our history.

At one point in the Juneteenth debate, Congresswoman Jackson Lee noted that “Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans...” In the spirt of our national motto, E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one,” every American should find the Freedom Season to be of singular significance, from Juneteenth through July 4. All Americans should take the opportunity to commit anew to the foundational principles in our Declaration as articulated by Lincoln. Rather than celebrating just two days, let us all celebrate for two weeks: a Freedom Season that recognizes how the great emancipator brought every one of us within reach of our Declaration’s promise.


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