July 04, 2007 EditionAlso in this issue...
Blast of noise and flash of colorMichael Brown
Happy Independence Day! That is right, it is time to celebrate the 231st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Fifty-six delegates of the Second Continental Congress put their name to that document. Today many people take for granted the enormous sacrifice of these true visionaries. To get an idea of the level of commitment the signers felt for this declaration one must only look to the last paragraph that reads, "And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Those are terribly strong words. Were they symbolic in nature? What does the evidence show?
John Adams made a living as an attorney. The Stamp Act enacted by the British Parliament in 1765 hit him especially hard. It was a tax on newspapers, legal documents and many other items of importance. So what did John Adams, a legal subject to the British Crown, do? He publicly denounced the act through resolutions that the Braintree, Mass., town meeting adopted.
In turn, about 40 other towns joined in to send a strong message to the British Parliament. The message being that the crown could not tax the colonists unless they consented to the tax. That message in itself would have been shocking and considered treasonous. However, the British repealed the Stamp Act in 1766. John Adams publicly announced his opposition to the policies of the world's most powerful empire. Surely, he knew he could have been marked for death. However, he pressed on.
Charles Carroll, along with his cousin, John Carroll, and Benjamin Franklin, went to Canada in 1776 to ask for help in the Revolutionary War. However, they were unable to convince the Canadians to join the colonists.
George Clymer was a successful merchant in Philadelphia who helped finance and supply the war effort against the crown. He later helped found the Philadelphia Bank and the Philadelphia Academy of Arts.
Richard Stockton of the Continental Congress was captured by the British in 1776 and imprisoned. His captors treated him harshly, and he never fully recovered. He lived the remainder of his life as an invalid.
We certainly cannot overlook the contribution of Benjamin Franklin. By the time of the signing, he was already a very popular and influential icon of the colonists. He had been serving others in one fashion or another for 55 years or so. He had worked as a printer and had published Poor Richard's Almanac.
As Philadelphia's postmaster and later as a deputy postmaster general of the colonies, he greatly improved mail service in the colonies, Canada and even overseas deliveries. He invented many useful items such as the bifocal lens, lightning rod and, of course, the Franklin stove.
He had also been a foreign diplomat in London during the Stamp Act debate. He stood before the British House of Commons and over about two hours answered 174 questions. The Stamp Act was repealed shortly after. Moreover, after the Boston Tea Party, he promised to give his entire fortune to pay for the tea if only the British Empire would repeal its tax on tea. The British refused his request. He sailed home disappointed of his failure to prevent what many had labeled an inevitable revolution against the most powerful empire on Earth!
As he arrived home, the war had already begun. He was appointed as the postmaster general of this new country because of his experience. He gave his salary to help relieve the wounded soldiers. A little over a year after he had returned, he signed the Declaration of Independence. Even then, he continued to serve his country. At the age of 70, he made a trip to France to garner support for the effort. Nearly two years later, France signed an Alliance Pact with the United States and French officers, soldiers, guns, gifts of money and loans were sent to bolster the colonists in their effort.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. He had also written that the colonists owed allegiance only to the monarch and only because the settlers had freely chosen to remain loyal. He further stated that as the Saxons that had settled in England had come from the area of present day Germany, so too had the original settlers of the colonies come from Britain. Germany had no claim of governance of Britain, thereby Britain had no claim of governance of the colonies.
His views were printed in a pamphlet in 1774 called A Summary View of the Rights of British America. He also insisted in his Reply to Lord North that a government had been set up in America for the colonists, not for the British. Surely, these words shot deeply into the heart of the king. He had been accustomed to his subjects actually subjecting themselves to his governing.
Although none of the signers listed above fought on the battlefield, several of the signers did. Regardless, many believe these noble men understood that their stand against the British could have very well led to their deaths. They decided to take that chance. They dedicated every ounce of effort they could muster to the success of the declaration, revolution and making of a new nation!
What can we do today to honor these great men for their efforts and sacrifice? We could inform ourselves of the state of affairs of our beloved nation. We could communicate with our elected leaders in a clear, concerned and courteous manner. We could serve in government. We could serve in the military, as many wonderful Americans are this very minute. We could be the very best citizens that we can be. Some may wonder how best to be a "good citizen." Each individual must answer that question. However, here are a few humble suggestions.
First, we must read. We must know more than the information obtained in school. The cheery or dreary spew of the politicians and "news" reports in the media should always be taken with some level of skepticism. We should read about our nations past, present and possible future. We must read from various sources as each has its own personal viewpoint and agenda. After reading, perhaps it would be a good idea to travel around and see for ourselves the level of truth in what we have read.
Secondly, we must participate. It is sad that in a nation where everyone's right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution and has been won by civic uprising and the spilling of sacred blood, it is in large part unused. Approximately half of the eligible voters choose not to. Regardless of the reason, that is like a slap in the face to the countless who fought and died to give us the right to vote. So we must vote. Voting is not just a right, but also a responsibility.
Thirdly, we must grow. Our nation is just like a person. It was born innocent and pure having done no wrong to another nation. It was also quite vulnerable economically, politically and militarily. Over time, the United States grew more comfortable with its surroundings and gradually found a place in the world.
It greatly expanded its borders westward while many times using very dubious and cruel methods. This would have been the late childhood to early adolescent period of our history. The nation was concerned with survival, growth and competition. However, it made numerous moral mistakes.
Later, as it grew into adulthood, there was much correction for past sins. There was the United States Civil War with its approximate 620,000 soldiers killed. Women gained the right to vote through the suffrage movement and the 19th constitutional amendment. The Civil Rights movement, with mistakes made on both sides, did ensure the survival of the principle of equal rights and equal opportunity for all Americans.
Currently, perhaps, we could consider our nation as being in the young adulthood stage. The United States is strong and sure of its beliefs and abilities. However, adults too make mistakes. Those mistakes should be tools for learning not daggers for backstabbing.
Fourthly, we must love. Specifically, we must love our nation and each other. Our country is magnificent in so many ways that we should wake up every day and thank God for our good fortune to be citizens of the United States of America. As bad as some try to say we are, it is ironic that millions worldwide would leave everything behind to come join us.
Even today, with the Global War on Terror and the scandal of Guantanamo Bay, the United States is still a beacon of light to untold millions around the world. No country on Earth is as admired, loved or blessed, as is the majestic United States of America.
Therefore, we should be proud and we should celebrate each day; especially on Independence Day. There are friends and family to visit and fairs to attend. There are monuments and memorials to see. However, a wonderful way to celebrate is to fire off some fireworks. Nothing can visually express the profound joy of being an American more than a large array of colorful fire in the sky!
There is just one more suggestion. If you see someone near the glorious holiday of Independence Day trying to add some noise to the lightning and some color to the clouds, join in. Perhaps the best way to honor the sacrifice of the military of the present and of the signers of the past is to make some noise and spread some color. Sleep can wait. After all, there will be at least 51 more weeks until the next celebration.
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