Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July! This is the day the Declaration of Independence was sent to the printers, who forthwith lost the original copy. (Can you believe it? Some things never change.) Congress voted in favor of the declaration on July 2nd, and then, in congressional fashion, spent a few days revising it. Much to the chagrin of Thomas Jefferson (who wrote it) they ended up cutting nearly a fourth of the text, including a section critical of the slave trade, then the changes were agreed upon and it was off to the printers and into history itself.

A few weeks later, on July 19th, most of congress got together and signed the nice parchment copy of the thing that everyone recognizes nowadays. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania stood in the back and refused to sign it -the only one. He had his reasons but he knew better, stating bluntly, "My conduct this day, I expect will give the finishing blow to my once too great and, my integrity considered, now too diminished popularity." He was the one who argued the most with John Adams on July 2nd, moving Adams into a passionate display that ended in the vote. John Adams was stoked! He went back to his lodgings and wrote to his wife:

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 forevermore."

It's interesting to note that he says "from one end of this continent to the other". The man was a visionary, even though he got the date wrong, and by "illuminations" we can be sure that he meant "fireworks".

Anyway, the image up top is what came back from the printers on July 6th. They also printed up a German version:

John Adams died on the 4th of July, exactly fifty years later. Amazingly, so did Thomas Jefferson. They were, at the time, the only two surviving signers of the Declaration, living through a little more than a fourth of our country's history. I picture them on their deathbeds, 1826, wondering about their legacies, with the thudding and booming of fireworks outside in the distance.

So they put "July 4, 1776" on the page because that's the day everyone was satisfied with the wording. If you don't know what the Declaration of Independence says, well, you should read it. It goes over all the reasons why the colonists don't like King George, and why they feel they have the right to ditch him as their leader. Among the reasons:

"He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

Seriously, what a ripe bastard! Such perfidy! Actions "totally unworthy of the head of a civilized nation"! You read that and none of the history that followed should come as a wonder.

We had declared our independence, but we still had to fight for it. On July 9th, George Washington read the Declaration to his assembled troops in New York, where they awaited the combined British fleet and army. (I would like to have seen that!) Later that night, American troops destroyed a bronze-lead statue of King George that stood at the foot of Broadway on the Bowling Green. The statue was melted down into bullets for the American Army.

We lost New York in the battle that followed, but won that war.

Thank God.

In Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.

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.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...