Americans celebrating their independence this weekend take for granted the smooth transition of presidential power. Whereas we quite rightly recall the events in Philadelphia in 1776, events in Egypt this week should remind us of a less-celebrated event in American history.

When John Adams took the presidential oath of office on March 4, 1797, it marked the first transition of power from one chief executive to the next. It followed a tempestuous election that made today's justly lamented dirty politics look tame by comparison. Yet it occurred, demonstrating that our democracy had taken root.

The ensuing four years were some of the most politically turbulent in the nation's history, yet when Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams after another bruising election season, the transition again was peaceful.

This week the Egyptian army staged a coup against President Mohamed Morsi, ousting him from the office to which he was elected just over a year ago.

No tears are warranted for Mr. Morsi. He had a chance to be a leader for the ages by insisting upon inclusive democracy but instead hewed to his roots in the radically Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet the coup overturned a valid election and scrapped a democratically adopted constitution. There is some solace in that the army acted after huge civilian protests, but in a democracy change should arise through elections and power should change by consent.

The Egyptian Army has demonstrated that it is the power there, and seeds of democracy sown in the volatile Middle East often find rocky ground.