Posts Tagged ‘Independence Day’
The 4th of July is known for parades, rodeos, barbeques, sparklers and fireworks… in other words, a celebration. And it should be.
But think about the atmosphere in what became known as Independence Hall on that fateful day in 1776. This was a solemn assembly of great, established and successful men who were engaging in radical activity – revolting from an oppressive government and risking their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the process.
I have wondered if any of those men, as they lined up to sign what very well could be their own death warrant, hesitated or had second thoughts. I’d like to think that I would have been at the front of the line, but I have never been in any situation that is remotely similar, so who knows?
The one thing I do know is that I am eternally grateful for the courage and resolve of those great men, our Founding Fathers.
They weren’t perfect. Far from it. But they were the right men at the right time, fulfilling what I truly believe was implementing God’s will to establish a nation of freedom.
This is why we believe in American Exceptionalism. What other possible explanation is there for such a collection of great men in the right place (the colonies) at the right time (the 1770’s). I don’t think there is a time since then that we could replicate that collection of men.
They were creating a nation that would live up to John Winthrop’s vision of the “city on the hill” which would serve as an example of freedom to the rest of the world.
The best explanation of this vision comes from Ronald Reagan’s final address from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989:
The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.
Yes, this nation is the shining city on the hill and it is worthy of great celebration.
On this Independence Day, pause and offer a prayer of thanks to God for putting 56 men in a hot and stuffy room in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 who, with quiet courage, made it all possible.
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
“Isn’t our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down? Down through the welfare state to statism, to more and more government largesse accompanied always by more government authority, less individual liberty, and ultimately, totalitarianism, always advanced as for our own good. The alternative is the dream conceived by our Founding Fathers, up to the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an orderly society. We don’t celebrate dependence day on the Fourth of July. We celebrate Independence Day.” –Ronald Reagan
Every Independence Day, I try to find something that fits the somber and important nature of that day in 1776. This year, Peggy Noonan nailed it in a Wall Street Journal piece that ran on Friday. I’d have posted it earlier – like on the 4th, but was obviously preoccupied. So here it is… very much worth the read.
In appreciation of our country’s founders and its greatest living historian.
- By PEGGY NOONAN
Monday, July 1, was heavy and hot, and a full-scale summer storm passed through the city late in the morning. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania rose to speak. He knew he was endangering the respect in which he was broadly held, his “popularity,” but he once again counseled caution: Slow down, separation from Britain is “premature,” to declare independence now would be “to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.” When he sat down, “all was silent except for the rain that had begun spattering against the windows.”
Then John Adams rose. He wished he had the power of the ancient orators of Greece and Rome, he said; surely they had never faced a question of greater human import.
He made, again, the case for independence. Now is the time, the facts are inescapable, the people are for it, we are not so much declaring as acknowledging reality. “Looking into the future [he] saw a new nation, a new time, all much in the spirit of lines he had written in a recent letter to a friend: ‘. . . We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.’ ” Outside the wind picked up and the storm struck hard with thunder and lightning. Storms had in the past unnerved Adams, but he spoke steadily, logically and compellingly for two hours.
After nine hours of debate, the voting commenced. The yeses were in the majority, but there were more noes than expected. Someone moved a final vote be taken the next morning. Adams and the rest hastily agreed.
That night word reached Philadelphia that the British fleet, a hundred ships, had been sighted off New York.
The next day, July 2, the final voting began. It went quickly. This was a pivotal moment in the political history of man. A creative, imaginative, historically conscious person in the middle of a thing so huge and full of consequence will try to notice things, to keep them forever in his eyes and pass them on. Here is a thing John Adams would never forget:
At 9 in the morning, just as the doors to the Congress were to be closed, “Caesar Rodney, mud spattered, ‘booted and spurred,’ made his dramatic entrance. The tall, thin Rodney—the ‘oddest-looking man in the world,’ Adams once described him—had been made to appear stranger still, and more to be pitied, by a skin cancer on one side of his face that he kept hidden behind a scarf of green silk. But, as Adams had also recognized, Rodney was a man of spirit, of ‘fire.’ Almost unimaginably, he had ridden eighty miles through the night, changing horses several times, to be there in time to cast his vote.”
All of these quotes are from David McCullough’s “John Adams.” More on Mr. McCullough in a moment.
The vote was completed: 12 for independence, New York abstaining, no one opposing. “The break was made, in words at least: on July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence. If not all 13 clocks had struck as one, twelve had, and with the others silent the effect was the same.”
On July 3, Congress argued over the wording and exact content of the formal Declaration. An indictment of the slave trade was dropped. In all, Thomas Jefferson saw roughly 25% of what he’d written wind up on the floor.
On July 4, discussion ended, debate was closed, a vote on the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was called, and the results were as on July 2. Congress ordered the document be printed. They’d sign it in a month. For now, John Hancock and one other, Charles Thompson, fixed their signatures.
Those present thought the great day had been July 2—the vote for independence itself. John Adams, who’d emoted over the 2nd in letters to Abigail, didn’t even mention the 4th , and Thomas Jefferson famously went shopping that afternoon for ladies’ gloves.
But on the morning of July 5, the people of Philadelphia started getting their hands on independently printed copies of the Declaration, and the impact was electric: My God, look what they said yesterday—”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” And on the 6th, a local newspaper carried the text of what had been agreed upon on the 4th. And so the celebration of the Fourth of July as one of the signal moments in the history of human freedom, was born. And so we mark it still.
* * *
On David McCullough: Almost all the details in the above come from his “John Adams” and “1776”. He is America’s greatest living historian. He has often written about great men and the reason may be a certain law of similarity: He is one also. His work has been broadly influential, immensely popular, respected by his peers (Pulitzer Prizes for “Truman” and “John Adams,” National Book Awards for “The Path Between the Seas” and “Mornings on Horseback”) and by the American public. It is not often—it is increasingly rare—that the academy shares the views of the local dry cleaner, the student flying coach and the high school teacher, but all agree on Mr. McCullough, as they did half a century ago on, say, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. He is admired by normal people and esteemed by the intellectual establishment.
Why? Here are a few reasons. He has the eye of a gifted reporter and the depth of a historian. He sees and explains the true size of an incident or endeavor, he factors in, always, the fact that we are human, and he captures the detail that is somehow so telling—it was a scarf of green silk, not soft muslin, that Rodney wore to the vote on American independence. He writes like a dream, of course. He is broad gauged and has range—the Johnstown flood, the building of the Panama Canal, the founders.
Mr. McCullough betrays no need to be contrarian but is only too happy to knock down history’s clichés, to wit George III, the mad doofus, who was in fact “tall and rather handsome” and played both the violin and piano. “His favorite composer was Handel, but he adored also the music of Bach.” He rendered “quite beautiful architectural drawings,” assembled a distinguished art collection, collected books that in time constituted “one of the finest libraries in the world,” loved astronomy, was nonetheless practical, and had a gift for putting people at their ease. He impressed even crusty old Samuel Johnson, who after meeting him called him “the finest gentleman I have ever seen.” As for the famous madness, he suffered not during the American Revolution but later in life from what appears to have been “prophyria, a hereditary disease not diagnosed until the twentieth century.”
One can’t know if Mr. McCullough is correct in his judgment here, or fully so. One can know he inspected the available data, pondered it, and attempted a fair-minded assessment. He is reliable. (Of how many can that be said?) And he loves America. His work has gone to explaining it to itself, to telling its story.
Almost two years ago, I was lucky enough to tour Mount Vernon with a dozen people including him. (If I were David McCullough I would know the date and time. But I know the weather.) At the bottom of a stairway leading to the second floor, we chatted for a moment, and I asked him how he accounted in his imagination for the amazing fact of the genius cluster that founded our nation. How did so many gifted men, true geniuses, walk into history at the same time, in the same place, and come together to pursue so brilliantly a common endeavor? “I think it was providential,” he said, simply.
Well, so do I. If you do too, it’s part of what you’re celebrating today.
Later, after dusk, an unforgettable moment. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, led by Gay Gaines, retiring after three years as one of its greatest regents—she’d worked herself like a rented mule to solidify and expand the operation—gave us dinner on a long table on the piazza, the veranda overlooking the unchanged Potomac. It is where President and Mrs. Washington dined. It was hot, and now dark, and David McCullough rose to speak of Washington, of his courage and leadership. A storm had been gathering all day. Now it broke, and as he spoke of Valley Forge there was, literally, a sudden roar of thunder, and lightning lit the clouds over the river. Mr. McCullough continued, with his beautiful voice, and we all got a chill: What kind of moment is this? What could we possibly have done to deserve it?
Nothing of course. Some gifts are just given.
That’s what Mr. McCullough’s work has been, a gift, one big enough for a nation. So thanks today to the memory of John and Tom and George, and old Ben, and John Dickinson, and Caesar Rodney too. Good work, gentlemen. You too, David.