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Fourth of July: How Ancient Greece Inspired American Independence

fourth of July, US Capitol Building
US Capitol Building, which was inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture. Ancient Greece and the ideals we celebrate on Fourth of July greatly influenced the push for American independence. Credit: Public domain

Greek Americans have one more reason to be proud on the Fourth of July each year because they don’t only celebrate America’s Independence Day, but also the great influence of Hellenism on the birth of the American nation.

The ideas and practices that we celebrate on Fourth of July and that led to the development of the American democratic republic after 1776 owe a debt to the ancient civilization of Greece.

All of America’s founding fathers had studied ancient Greek philosophers’ texts, drawing inspiration about morals, ethics and the sense of independence, all fundamental principles of a democratic society.

Plato (c. 427-328 BC) was an important influence, as he wrote about the importance of mixed government, an idea that is fundamental to both the development of the separation of powers and the Constitution.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) also wrote about the separation of powers as a crucial element in a republic.

Fourth of July: American Independence and Ancient Greece

As author Tom Jewett pointed out: “Thomas Jefferson admired many aspects of the ancient Greeks; he could read and speak the language. He agreed with many of their precepts, such as the Greek idea that man is measure of all things.

This was the groundwork for his belief in humanism, which recognized no barriers to the use of the mind, and which sought to make all knowledge useful to man. Jefferson particularly admired the Greeks’ idea with respect to man’s relationship to himself.”

“Jefferson was also influenced by the Greek philosophies of Epicures and the Stoics. He believed as Epicures that happiness was humanity’s main goal and it could be attained through moral and noble actions.

From the Stoics, Jefferson took the idea of reining in emotion. He felt these ideas about self-control, moderation and rational behavior in the face of misfortune were paragons on how one should comport oneself,” Jewett stated.

US Presidents honor Greek Revolution

Since 1987, the United States honor Greece’s War of Independence Day (March 25) with a commemorative event held in the White House. This is in recognition for the contribution of Greek civilization — the spirit of Hellenism — and the birth of democracy in ancient Athens.

Standing next to a Greek flag, US President Joe Biden sent a video message for Greek Independence Day on March 25, 2021.

“For 200 years our nations’ fates have been intertwined. Young people from the newly formed United States joined Greeks in their fight to defend democracy and individual freedom,” Biden said.

“When Axis powers marched in Europe at the Second World War II, the Greeks bravely said ‘No’ and joined us in the fight for universal rights.”

“Throughout our shared history, our close ties, family and culture, economic and defense cooperation binds us together. But what really binds us together are values,” the US President stressed.

“The relationship between my Administration and Greece will be closer than it has ever been.”

In the speech for Greek Independence Day given on March 22, 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump honored Greece, calling it “the birthplace of democracy and Western Civilization”.

“All around us here in the United States we see the profound influence of Greek culture, art and philosophy. In the Federalist Papers, our founding fathers consulted the wisdom of the ancient Greek city states when writing our own Constitution,” the U.S. President further said.

“Our nation’s general scientists, lawyers and educators continue to find inspiration in the works of ancient Greeks. And throughout this capital city, from the Supreme Court to the Lincoln Memorial, to the beautiful White House we see the magnificence of Greek architecture. Finally, we see Greece’s enduring influence to so many Americans of Greek descent who contribute so much to this nation that we love,” Donald Trump continued.

And he concluded: “We (Greeks and Americans) stand together for freedom, justice and democracy today and for all time. May God bless Greece, and may God bless the United States of America.”

In November 2016, then U.S. president Barack Obama addressed Athenians during his visit to Greece, acknowledging the contribution of the ancient Athens city state to the birth of the American Nation with these words:

“Twenty-five centuries after Athens first pointed the way, 250 years after the beginning of the great American journey, my faith and my confidence, my certainty in our democratic ideals and universal values remain undiminished.”

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