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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Thu, 07/03/2008 - 9:30am.
This weekend most Americans will take time to fire up the grill, stuff themselves with burgers and potato salad and ooh and ahh at fireworks. Radio stations will devote more airtime than usual to songs like Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, even though the Boss's tune is far from patriotic. But as we mark the 232nd birthday of the United States of America, do people really pay attention to what it all means? Is it even really just about a single day in the summer of 1776?
The long journey to American independence really got rolling on June 7, 1776. That's when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read a proposal beginning: "Resolved: 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." Four days later, Thomas Jefferson began an arduous, 17-day journey into the annals of history locked away in his apartment, where he was prodded by John Adams and coaxed by Benjamin Franklin to put his talent for writing to good use. And boy, did he.
Those words began what may be the most significant piece of prose in modern history. "This morning is assigned the greatest debate of all," Adams wrote to a friend on July 1, 1776, before he headed to the Pennsylvania State House for the Continental Congress' morning session. It was there that John Dickinson, a Pennsylvanian against separation from mother England, said that moving forward with the declaration was "to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper."
After a long, hot, fly-infested June in Philadelphia, the temperature, according to Jefferson, cooled off to a mild (and perhaps fitting) 76 degrees in the City of Brotherly Love on July 4, 1776. It was late on that Thursday morning that the delegates finished debating and editing Jefferson's declaration. At the basest level, when the delegates finally adopted the edited version, they were committing an extreme act of treason. And when most of the delegates finally signed it on August 2, 1776, it was said they had signed their ticket to the gallows. "We must all hang together," Franklin said, "or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
Think about that. Here were men of dignity, nobility and wealth. They were farmers, lawyers, businessman, even clergy. And they were openly and wantonly breaking the law for the betterment not only of themselves, but of the hundreds of thousands of people who had settled in the colonies. They risked literally everything they had for this cause. Dickinson, though he maintained his opposition for the effort and made clear his hope for reconcilliation with King George III and Parliament, left Congress to join the fight against the Red Coats. That fight lasted another seven years, until the British finally conceded in the Treaty of Paris.
The result was a new world order of sorts. The United States of America became the first set of colonies to successfully break away from a mother stem. The representative democracy established is still a model for the rest of the world, and the American Dream lives on in the hearts of people around the world. Today the Pennsylvania State House is known as Independence Hall and is recognized as a World Heritage Site for the role in played in the creation of the Declaration and the Constitution 12 years later. The bell that once hung in its cupola eventually became known as the Liberty Bell and continues to stand as a symbol of freedom for people everywhere.
All this is not to say that the founding fathers or the "more perfect union" they tried to create are indeed perfect. Far from it. The signers of the Declaration removed from the document Jefferson's denunciation of slavery, giving in to the South's demands to protect their economic interests. Thus they forever will be guilty of allowing perhaps the darkest part of American history to continue for another nine decades, not to mention the reciprocal effects that are still felt today. But while that offense may be unforgiveable, the good they achieved here and around the world is immeasurable.
So as you celebrate Independence Day this weekend, put down that hot dog for a moment and remember why you have the day off. Think about the risk a room of men took 232 years ago for you. Think about the more than four-thousand colonists who gave their life to defend their new homeland. Remember that no matter what you may think of the poltical, economic or social climate of today, we live in the greatest country of all. No doubt. And take a lesson from the closing words of the Declaration of Independence that shows what conviction and commitment those founding fathers had: "...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
By: Kevin Wuzzardo