It was July 4, 1976.
The bicentennial of the United States of America. I was 11 years old and in the summer between 5th and 6th grade.
I was a history geek at that time (and frankly still am!). I was able to recite the list of Presidents in order from Washington to Ford. Today, I get stuck a little in between Grant and Theodore Roosevelt.
My recollection of the bicentennial celebrations and what I learned in school was the concept of a grand collaboration of a bunch of men we referred to as our forefathers. I visualized the famous John Trumbull 1815 painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. All the participants were gathered around the issuance of the draft ready for signing. There was a clear portrayal of unity and goodwill among the members. I held the notion that this day was the catalyst to seamless transition into the great American experiment and dream.
In reality, it wasn’t that way at all.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence was the culmination of two highly volatile and politically explosive continental congresses. The First Continental Congress met in 1774 with the more eventful 2nd Continental Congress beginning in 1775. For over a year, these men battled and negotiated over whether to remain part of the British Empire or declare independence.
On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee put forth a resolution for independence. Voting was postponed as more negotiations and lobbying ensued. Any agreement on taking this action still didn’t have enough votes. This was when the now famous “Committee of Five” were assigned to draft the document. This committee included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. Jefferson did most of the work on the drafting.
Between July 2nd and July 4th, Congress argued over every single word of the draft, making many changes in order to gain consensus. On the 4th of July in 1776, the Congress finally voted and approved this historic Declaration of Independence. Funny note – the Declaration of Independence wasn’t actually signed on the 4th of July, just voted on. The actual signing didn’t occur until August 2nd.
Maybe we should throw another party on that day…
Strangely enough, King George didn’t just issue a concession and fold up his tent. This “declaration” was only that. That monumental moment led to nearly a decade of war to actually gain that independence. For most of it, victory by the Americans was in grave doubt. It wasn’t until the Treaty of Paris signed on September 3, 1783 (another day lost to annals of time) that the British formally ended the conflict.
It was still another six years before the United States Constitution was ratified and that our first president, George Washington, took office.
Why do I share all of this?
In my opinion, we’ve romanticized the story of the birth of our nation. As we celebrate this day based on John Adams’ exhortation that we do, we seem to overlook the extreme hardship and perseverance that came with it.
Our nation’s independence was hard, long, and costly in lives lost. There were political battles that rival any time in history, including our own. The declaration made was dismissed by King George, who sent a professional military to put the rebellion down. There was fear, doubt, death, and pain.
Ultimately, our country did come together with a common goal of independence. While they argued bitterly at times over how that would look, they did resolve to work together in creating this new nation built on democracy. And the “experiment” lives on to today.
There is a lesson for us. We may not always – or maybe even often – agree on issues that seem top of mind today. But that’s always been the case and always will be. What we must continue to demonstrate is a courage of conviction that we have a common goal that includes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness every single American.
It will be hard. It might be painful. There will be fear, doubt, and hardship. But if we persevere as well as those before us did, and mutually pledge our own fidelity to each other and our cause, the American experiment will continue.
Keep chasing unleashed.
Quote of the Week:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
~ The final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence
P.S. Before you tell me my grammar and punctuation is askew, this is the way it was written. Take it up with Thomas Jefferson…
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