By Seth R. Nadel
JULY! The real summer time is here. Time for picnics, barbeques, hikes, swimming, and all the vacation things you have been thinking of all winter. And the month kicks off with the grand holiday, the three day weekend of the 4th of July! Parades, hot dogs, baseball games, and all kinds of festivities are going on, it’s a great time.
I’m going to ask you to give 10 minutes, just 1/6th of a hour, to think about the reason for the season. It actually started on April 19th, 1775. The British Army moved out from it’s base in Boston to seize legally held arms and ammunition in Concord, Massachusetts. A tyrannical government, based 3,000 miles away and completely unresponsive to the needs of the British Colonies in America, moved to take away the property – the guns, shot, and powder – of people who disagreed with the way they were ruled.
As the troops left Boston, they were tracked and the alarm spread through the countryside. Communities had formed ’Companies’ – groups – of citizens who prepared to respond ‘in one minute’ to resist further illegal action by the ruler. When the British troops reached Lexington, the Company of Minute Men had formed on the green in the center of the village. Someone, unknown to this day, fired a shot – “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”, and the American Revolution had begun.
The leaders of the day wanted the world to know WHY – why the British subjects in the 13 Colonies in America had stood up and resisted the great empire, with the strongest, best Army in the world. Why would farmers and merchants dispute the rule of a King? After all, the rest of the world lived under Kings, or Emperors, or other hereditary rulers. The British even had a Parliament, which debated and discussed the laws before submitting them to the King to be enacted! Why was this not good enough for those who lived under the same protections in America that existed in England, and the rest of the Empire ?
These men wanted the world to see the plain sense of the issues, and understand the desire of the men and women who lived in “The New World” to rule themselves. They rejected “Divine Right” to rule, the idea that just because of your birth in the royal family, a person was better suited to decide how others should live. Since the Colonies recognized merit by actions rather than birth, they sent their best and brightest to lead this new collection of States.
Thomas Jefferson was already well known for his ability with words, and he was selected to write a Declaration – a statement of the wrongs done to those in America, justifying the resistance to what had become a ‘Foreign’ Ruler. After considerable debate in the Continental Congress, what we know as the Declaration of Independence was published on July 4th!
It was, in fact, a declaration of treason! TREASON to reject a ruler who did not care for his people! TREASON to want to be free! TREASON to want to form a new kind of government, of, by, and for THE PEOPLE!
They had no idea what form that government would take, no framework, no guidelines. But they knew that they wanted to be represented in some form of assembly, with people from their own state selected by the people of their own state. All they had to start with were ‘Committees of Correspondence’, people selected to communicate with the other states. These evolved into ‘Committees of Safety’, intended to form military units from each state – and they indeed saw themselves as separate countries. It was not until much later that they considered themselves not “these States United” but “the United States” – even then they were thinking of states rights.
Those who settled the West, particularly after 1865, had fought in the Civil War. They may have fought on either side, but by coming West they declared their own search for FREEDOM. They came in search of a new beginning – in mining, ranching, farming, or as a merchant or lawman. They often chose to re-invent themselves, to start over as free men.
Consider those 56 men who pledged, and risked, their lives, their fortunes, and their Sacred Honor all those years ago. There are names we recognize – John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson. There were others, well known in the day, now mostly forgotten. But each state had sent its most accomplished men, who saw their work as a service to their fellow man – and women. They interrupted their lives, left their homes and families in a time when travel was both difficult and uncertain, to risk everything.
Think of how they viewed what they were doing. They considered their lives of small value against what was to be gained. And several died during the war. Their fortunes truly meant the future of their families, and many were left destitute, homes and farms burned, stock animals taken or killed, savings eliminated. But what they listed last, what they prized the most, was “their sacred Honor.” They knew that they could earn more money, rebuild the buildings, buy more animals. But they could never erase the stain on their honor if they failed. Being hung for treason against the king was nothing to forever being known for having marred their name.
Was this a realistic fear? YES! Just consider the saying “his name is mud,” meaning his honor is gone. It arises from Dr. Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth’s injured leg after the Lincoln assassination. Mudd did not know of the murder, or that Booth was the killer, but he was arrested and tried for aiding Booth. He was notorious ever after.
So give yourself 10 minutes, and read the Declaration of Independence – read it aloud! Read it to your family and your friends! Between the ball games and the hot dogs, think about “the Glorious 4th” to be celebrated with the firing of guns (now fireworks) and gathering of people. Think of those who risked all, and gave all, so we could be a FREE country, governed (not ruled) by people we elect to represent us.
They gave all – so give AMERICA 10 minutes to remember our past. Just 1/6th of an hour to recall ’the reason for the season!’
You can read the Declaration Of Independence here at www.archives.gov
Image three (John Trumbull’s Declaration Of Independence) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.