To Cosmos Philly Fans: Over the past few months, I have tried to write blogs that were informational, entertaining, and sometimes humorous (I don’t know if I succeeded there!), but I asked Cosmos Philly if I could reprint an article I wrote a decade ago that I feel is just as relevant today as it was back then, especially with all of the “revolutions” happening throughout the world. Sometimes we need to be reminded that people fought and died so we could live free. They graciously allowed it. I apologize that it’s a little longer than my usual rants and ravings but I hope you enjoy it.
It is said that every American is from someplace else in the world. A person could be born in the USA, but will refer to where his/her parents or grandparents came from. Some people say they are “first generation Polish” or “third generation Korean.” There are some that even claim they are “tenth generation English,” whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower. It has become “in” to use ethnic names and some ethnic groups actively advocate bi-lingual road signs and some government notices are printed in several languages. We have festivals to promote the cultures of the world and television shows that are conducted in foreign tongues. We have become inebriated with everything ethnic. We have become a nation of hyphenated people. There are Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Greek-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and Native-Americans, but in reality, no matter how hard we try to convince others that our roots are from someplace else, in the end, and to the rest of the world, we are simply Americans.
However, on one day of the year we all seem to forget our differences and where our ancestors came from, and we celebrate being just plain Americans. Every July 4th, from Portland, Maine, to Anchorage, Alaska, and from Miami, Florida, to Honolulu, Hawaii, Americans of all races, religions, and nationalities get together with their families and friends to watch parades, have barbecues, play baseball, and, of course, when the day turns into night, watch the thousands of fireworks across this great land. We, as Americans, celebrate America’s birthday.
But why do we celebrate America’s birthday? Is it for the parade down Main Street, or the day off from work? As 21st Century Americans, we tend to forget and do not understand the sacrifices that men and women made over 235 years ago in the American Revolution so that we could have hamburgers and hotdogs on the barbecue today (and let us not forget the men and women who have since protected our freedoms). These men and women suffered and died so that we (or our ancestors) could come from all over the world, many leaving desolate and war-torn towns and villages, to live and work in this great county. They came to educate their children, and to pray in their own houses of worship without fear. Yes, July 4th is a time of celebration but it should also be a time of reflection.
In July of 1776, 56 men from original thirteen colonies, gathered at the Second Continental Congress, in what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House, in the city of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. They adopted a resolution to declare that the thirteen states were independent from Great Britain. The document became known as the Declaration of Independence and is one of our Republic’s most cherished and important documents.
The Declaration was simple. It laid out to the world the American colonists’ grievances against King George III. It was also earth-shattering. The Declaration reiterated the notions of democracy and freedom which first flickered in Ancient Greece but did not flourish again in the world for over 2,000 years. It was truly a revolutionary document. It was the renewal of those rights inherent in all men and women and flew in the face of a stagnate and decaying ideal, whose time had come to pass – that kings and queens were ordained by God to rule over people (of course, usually at the end of a sword). Those king and queens and the Old World trembled when America declared its independence.
Even though the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, the signers were uncertain as to the future of the nation they were creating – or their own lives. The independence that they declared still needed to be won on the battlefield, which would take another six years. When Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, on June 7, 1776, motioned for independence, a committee was appointed which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingstone, and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a declaration. Jefferson prepared the actual text and the proposed draft was debated in Congress from July 2 through 4 and adopted on July 4th. However the Declaration would not be signed by the delegates until August 2, 1977 and Congress would not authorize its printing with all names of the signers until January 8, 1777, since the document was tantamount to treason and if captured, the delegates would surely hang. It was finally decided to print the Declaration with the names after Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton.
We tend to view the signers of the Declaration of Independence as the old men standing around a table in the painting, “Signers of the Declaration” by John Trumball, but they were vibrant revolutionaries and a diverse group. Half of the signers were southerners who owned large plantations with slaves. Some were lawyers or trained in law. Others were merchants and shippers. There were four doctors and four trained ministers. Most were in their 30s and 40s, except Franklin, who was 70. All were fathers, but 2 men were bachelors. One-third were born into wealth while others acquired it on their own. One signer, George Taylor, came to America as an indentured servant.
One-third of the signers’ homes were destroyed or damaged by the British. Four were captured and taken prisoner. One-third served in militia units, which saw action. Most lost almost everything as they neglected their personal affairs and a few landed in debtor’s prison after the war when they tried to regain their fortunes.
Why these men, who were mostly wealthy, educated, the elite of society, gambled and risked everything so that the common man could be free, is simple – they cherished freedom above all else. The last sentence of the Declaration surely shows the seriousness these men took in their dedication to freedom. It states, “…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Would you have done the same?
Each year, on the 4th of July, we should take a few minutes from our parades, ballgames, and barbecues, to remember those that fought for freedom and created this nation, a nation that allows us to be proud of where we came from and of being American.
Happy Birthday America!
Please click on the following site to view the Declaration of Independence in its entirety to understand how our nation was born: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/index.htm