If you want to start a revealing conversation ask the question, “If you could witness only one event in the history of mankind, what event would it be?” Many events jump into my mind, such as watching Jesus perform one of his miracles or being present when Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.
I was able to see a rendition of an event that I would have been in awe to witness. It took place on a rainy morning in Philadelphia. It was July 2, 1776 and the Continental Congress, with representatives from the thirteen colonies, had gathered to vote for or against independence from its mother country, Great Britain.
Many years ago HBO did a miniseries on John Adams based upon the book with the same title by David McCullough. The miniseries showed what happened in the months leading up to the vote and how difficult it was to get some of the representatives in the Continental Congress to vote to break away from King George III of England.
The one scene that stuck in my mind that I would have liked to experience in person showed the moments immediately after the vote for independence occurred. After the last vote was cast, it was clear that independence had been declared.
In the miniseries rendition, the room was dead silent as the camera panned across the men, who, after days and days of debate, had just created a new nation. It showed our founding fathers including John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock.
To some degree, the vote was easy. There was momentum as state after state supported the motion. But once the vote concluded, as the camera panned the room, the look on the representatives’ faces as they took in the moment was generally, “What have we done?”
The vote was not the conclusion of the efforts of our founders. It was just the beginning. There could not be a more treasonous act. As a result of the courageous vote, there was much to be done. Any hope of avoiding further war with the most powerful country in the world was gone.
John Adams was to write, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.” Unfortunately, despite the core of his statement being correct, our country didn’t choose the 2nd of July to celebrate.
Although we celebrate our independence on July 4th, very little occurred on that date in 1776. The congress approved a final edited version of the Declaration of Independence and the date of July 4th was placed on the document. In 1777, the 4th was celebrated as the one year birthday of our nation and the date has stuck ever since.
Interesting enough, King George III entered in his diary for July 4, 1776, “Nothing happened today.” He could not have been more wrong. Although nothing of significance occurred in England, something very significant happened in its colony an ocean away, he just didn’t know it yet!
A new allegiance was being pledged. Patrick Henry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said it best when he declared that he no longer considered himself a Virginian, but an American. He told his audience that everyone should consider himself an American, not a Pennsylvanian, a New Yorker, or a North or South Carolinian.
We take so much for granted. It is hard to imagine the commitment and the risk of those who breathed life into our country. Having the courage to vote is one thing, signing your name on the Declaration knowing the names would be given to the powerful King of England is another. Rumor has it that John Hancock signed his name in large letters to make sure the King would have no problem reading his name.
What happened to the 56 brave men who elected to undertake the risk of signing the Declaration? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the signers fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. When they signed, they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
These men were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Happy Birthday America! As we celebrate the fourth of July, my challenge to you is to recognize those who have sacrificed so greatly so we can enjoy our freedoms today in this great land of America. Remember, “When you drink from the well, don’t forget those who dug it.” Countless lives have been lost in forging and protecting our country.
From the representatives at the Continental Congress to our sons, daughters, husbands, and wives overseas; from Abraham Lincoln to our uniformed men and women living among us protecting our communities; from our war veterans to families of military who have had to push forward with their lives after losing a loved one, we enjoy our freedoms today because of others who have paid and continue to pay a sacrifice.
Enjoy your picnic and enjoy the fireworks, but through it all remember to be grateful for those who have sacrificially given and those who continue to sacrificially give so that you can enjoy your freedoms today.
Just a thought...
Rick Kraft is proud to be an American. He wishes you a safe and joyous celebration of our nation’s birthday. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, NM, 88202-0850.