Thomas Jefferson kept a weather diary. In it he noted the unseasonably cool temperatures for a summer’s day in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. But inside Independence Hall, the debate was anything but cool.
There were heated exchanges between the delegates of the Second Continental Congress as they debated whether or not to declare independence from Great Britain, severing forever the political ties to the mother country and taking a giant leap of faith into the unknown.
In the end, after months of arguing the merits of the issue and after much deliberation, the vote was taken and late in the evening the die was cast as the thirteen colonies became the United States of America. A nation had been born.
They voted for independence knowing full well that by affixing their signature to that document they were signing their own death warrants since as British subjects they were committing treason against the Crown. This act alone made it clear that there was no turning back and that standing and fighting for their freedom was preferable to knuckling under and bowing before King George.
While differences still remained between the states and many of the issues would not be resolved until years later, they joined in common cause to fight a common enemy. Ben Franklin put it best when he said “We must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
On July 8, 1776 in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence was read in public for the first time and on July 9th George Washington ordered it read to the troops. This was what they were fighting for, the basic right that people all over the world yearn for every day- the right to be free.
Fast forward 232 years to hot and smoky Sacramento in the summer of 2008 and we find a very different story. The heirs to this great tradition of representative democracy set forth by the Founding Fathers struggle with a very different issue. How to fix a massive fiscal mess of their own making, repair a crumbling infrastructure they have neglected for too many years and somehow find a way provide for the future needs of a growing state.
The new fiscal year in California begins on July 1st, next Tuesday and yet the Legislature is no closer to a budget than they were two weeks ago when they missed for the umpteenth time the constitutionally set deadline of June 15th. It is long past time for them to fix what needs fixin’ and get done what needs gettin’ done.
We all should be glad that these folks were not in the Second Continental Congress lest we be playing soccer and cricket and not football and baseball.
Perhaps our current legislators need to reread the Declaration of Independence to remind them that those who went before them and signed that document weren’t concerned about promoting special interest agendas, public relations stunts or the next election. They were deciding their future and the future of their countrymen.
They believed in what they were doing so strongly that they were willing to risk everything they had. The last line of the Declaration reads, “And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
Would today’s elected officials be willing to do the same to defend freedom?
Unfortunately in today’s politically correct world I am sure there would be objections against the words “Divine Providence” as possibly being offensive to atheists and they would be looking for loopholes or “exit strategies” to cover their own backsides in case the revolution failed!
You know, every Fourth of July, I pull out my copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it in its entirety. I do so to remind myself that while I am no blood relation to the Founding Fathers, I am by virtue of my birth and citizenship an heir to the legacy of democracy they bequeathed to us all.
And I remind myself that what makes America unique among nations is that we are bound together as one people by words written on parchment centuries ago not by ethnicity, religion or allegiance to a crown. These sacred documents–the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights–lay out the fundamental truths and laws of our free society and have been paid for by the sacrifice of those who have gone before us.
This Fourth of July before you head out to enjoy your 3 day weekend, get yourself a copy of the Declaration of Independence gather the family around and read it aloud, just as it was read 232 years ago on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Make it a family tradition, something you can hand down to your children and them to theirs.
Because if we ever forget what it means to be free and what that freedom has cost, we will be that much closer to losing that freedom.
Happy Birthday America and Happy Fourth of July to all Americans especially those who are standing guard for freedom in faraway lands!
As a Fourth of July bonus, I have attached three links. The first is a cartoon that was made by Warner Brothers in 1939, and while not politically correct by today’s standards, it’s message is still the same. For baby boomers, you might remember seeing this on a Saturday morning many years ago. That is where I first saw it. Enjoy!
I have also attached a recording of FDR speaking to the Nation the day after the D-Day Landings on June 6, 1944. With our troops in harm’s way around the globe, it reminds us of the cost of freedom.
And finally, here is a link to the original text of the Declaration of Independence.