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Happy 4th of July!

Every Independence Day, we celebrate the birth of our nation. We light the grill, listen to patriotic music, and watch fireworks. We sing the national anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. We salute the Stars and Stripes, rippling in the wind, and give thanks that we’re Americans.

But what does it mean to be an American?

It’s a question as old as our nation itself. What does it mean to be an American? 

Recently, I thought about one of America’s most popular vacation destinations: Mt. Rushmore. This famous work of art, depicting four of our greatest presidents, is technically called the “Shrine to Democracy,” and it attracts millions of visitors every year.

But if you’ve ever been, you know that most of these visitors are all very different. 

In a single day, you will see people arriving in everything from Harley Davidsons to minivans; Lamborghinis to beat-up lemons. You will hear a range of accents – from the Deep South to the Midwest, from the Pacific Coast to the boroughs of New York City. You’ll see high-heels and hiking shoes, crocs, and cowboy boots. Some will be wearing denim and some wearing slacks. Some will have the American flag emblazoned on almost every article of clothing; others will wear religious symbols or the logos of their favorite sports team. Some will wear t-shirts boldly addressing whatever political issue they’re most passionate about. Some will be Native Americans, there to remind people that this was, and is, their land – and that it’s sacred.

Some will be young families. Some will be solo adventurers, or part of a motorcycle convoy. Some will be older married couples, on a long-planned pilgrimage across America. Some will go there to snap a few pictures, hit the gift shop, and leave. Others will be students of history, absorbing every iota of information they can. And some will come and sit for hours, gazing at the monument in complete silence, their musings and motives known only to themselves. 

Thousands of people visit Mt. Rushmore each day during the summer. Each person completely different from the next. 

What does it mean to be an American? Ask all those people at Mt. Rushmore and you will probably get five thousand different answers.

At first, it might seem mindboggling that such a simple question – “What does it mean to be an American?” – doesn’t come with a simple answer. But if you think about it, the four people on the monument itself were very different, too.

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. On one hand, you have the aristocratic philosopher in Thomas Jefferson; on the other, the cabin-born, rail-splitting lawyer in Lincoln. On one hand, you have the reserved, dignified General in Washington, who hated politics, to the exuberant, rough-riding Roosevelt, who basked in politics all his life. Each had very different views, opinions, beliefs, and philosophies. Each made decisions that would probably have shocked the others.

Each probably had a different view of “what it means to be an American.” 

And that’s what makes America special, isn’t it?

This is a nation that could produce both a Jefferson and a Lincoln. Two of the greatest minds and speakers we’ve ever known – from completely opposite backgrounds. A nation that could produce both a Washington and a Roosevelt, two of the most magnetic figures we’ve ever known – but with almost nothing else in common. A nation where how you look, dress, or speak should mean nothing. A nation where the wealthiest and poorest are equal under law. A nation where a family from California and a family from Texas and a family from Iowa and a family from Massachusetts, each with different experiences and opinions, can all gaze up at the same monument and feel something equally profound. 

A nation where a monument like that belongs to all of us, no matter who we are, what we believe, or where we came from. 

A nation where being an American means…whatever you decide it means for you, whatever I decide it means for me. 

As we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day, we will all honor our country in different ways. We will all reflect on our rights, freedoms, heritage and future – on what it means to be American – in whatever way makes sense to us. 

So, what does it mean to be an American? That’s a question only you can answer. 

And that’s why I’m so grateful to be one. 

On behalf of everyone here at Gallagher Wealth Management, I wish you a Happy Independence Day! 


David M. Gallagher

Wealth Manager