Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Words that built America: Thoughts on this Fourth of July
– Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Today is Independence Day – America's birthday – the day the United States celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, signed 241 years ago on July 4, 1776, and the separation of the original 13 colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from the British Empire.
According to Garrison Keillor, broadcasting in his Writer's Almanac this morning across National Public Radio stations from coast to coast, I learned this: "Thomas Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence; everyone else in the room thought he was the most eloquent and the best writer and he offered no dissent. It's said that John Hancock wrote his name in extra large script so that King George would be sure to see it; the king suffered from cataracts. Fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the document. One out of eight of them had gone to Harvard. Two would go on to become presidents of the United States."
Now it can be told: The signing of the Declaration of Independence actually took place on July 2, not the Fourth of July, and, said Keillor, "this fact always irked John Adams, who decided to protest the date of the new celebration by never, not once, attending a July Fourth celebration as long as he lived."
Also, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place in Philadelphia on July 18, 1776, in Independence Square. Bells were rung and music filled the air. Congress established the Fourth of July as a national holiday in 1870. It became a federal holiday in 1938.
Today, Independence Day throughout the United States is commonly associated with fireworks and parades, backyard barbecues and picnics in city parks and at lakes and beaches. We celebrate family reunions and go to baseball games, too. Indeed, Independence Day is our celebration of our National Day in the United States.
And yet, in recent days, out collective liberties and freedoms have come under attack, thanks to the actions of a few – but with far-reaching consequences. Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently wrote that real patriotism "isn't about putting up walls, excluding Muslims and refugees, giving tax cuts to the rich, threatening freedom of the press and attacking the federal courts, or dividing Americans by race and ethnicity." In fact, he goes on to say, it's just the opposite. "Real patriotism requires sharing the burdens and sacrifices of keeping America going, paying taxes in full, cherishing democratic institutions, and bring America together."
Here's one final thought worth sharing on this Fourth of July, 2017:
"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."
– And, so began the unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, the statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, who were then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead, they formed a new nation – the United States of America.
Happy Birthday America!