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Sunday, July 3, 2011

What The Fourth Of July Means To Me

“On what rests the hope of the republic? One country, one language, one flag!” — Alexander Henry

I was born five days short of the Fourth of July which means that my birthday is celebrated of along with the birth of our Republic on July 4th. My family has been doing this for years so I am used to sharing my birthday with the United States of America, the land that I love.

I was blessed. I came of age in the 50s, a time when people were not embarrassed to fly the flag on the Fourth, say the Pledge of Allegiance or stand for the National Anthem. A time when you knew if you played by the rules and worked hard you could be anything you wanted to be, including a bum. I graduated from a public high school in 1954, a school with a curriculum that would challenge most state colleges today. I will always remember my final exam in 11th grade U.S. history. The teacher walked through the class with his hat filled with little slips of paper and on each slip was a topic. You were required, in 45 minutes, to write an essay on the topic you were lucky enough to draw. I drew the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. How about that, a 16 year kid writing an essay on such a complicated subject. Try that today and you would have the ACLU all over the school board. How about the teacher grading 30 plus essays? The teachers unions would cry foul. Oh by the way, I finished the class with an “A”, something else that they do not do today. Satisfactory is good enough.

I never went to college. You see there were no student loans in those days and my folks did not have much money. Do I regret this? Not one bit. I had a paper route until I graduated from high school and had to give it up for full time work as a surveyor’s assistant. The paper route taught me how to run a small business as I had to pay for the papers and it was up to me to collect the money from my 75 customers. No stimulus packages or subsidies then. I earned enough to buy a $135 Kodak Pont 35mm camera, Admiral Phonograph and a Hallicrafter short wave radio. What a great time. No iPods or iPhones. We had a black dial phone and a phonograph that played 78 rpm and eventually 33-1/3 rpm LP records, mostly classical music. I will always remember that great recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture by Antal Doráti and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra with the live canons. Boom, boom, my cousin John and I used to blast out the house with this one.

Speaking of blasting, once I was old enough to buy them we always had fireworks on the 4th or we went to lakefront to watch the spectacular displays over Lake Eire. One year my cousin and drove to Toledo, where you could buy the big stuff, you know cherry bombs, M-80, skyrockets, roman candles and those big tall tubular ones that launched a M-80 about 50 feet in the air and when it went off it would rattle the windows of the neighbors houses. Fortunately the neighbors were all watching our fireworks displays. Once the Parma police came by and watched for a while and then told us to keep it down after 10:00 pm. No arrests, no fines, just common sense.

When we were launching the skyrockets the guidance system on one of the rockets was faulty and it went off course like a cruise missile into the open garage of our neighbor as he was just driving into his garage right over the top of his car. It hit the back wall of the garage and exploded in a shower of sparks and noise. The neighbor was cool about it he came over and cautioned us to use more care in the launch parameters and enjoyed the remainder of the display. My dad thought we would all go to jail.

The Fourth of July is not about fireworks, hot dogs and hamburgers, it’s about freedom, the freedom to be the best or to fail. I mentioned that I did not go to college. I did go to night school for advanced classes in mathematics, physics and language. For my surveying and civil engineering career I took a two year International Correspondence School course after I was married and living in California. ICS was the forerunner of the University of Phoenix and other online universities in its day. After completing the ICS course I became licensed as a Land Surveyor in California and 5 additional western states finally owning my own civil engineering and land surveying business. Eventually I sold the business to a larger civil engineering firm where I became part owner and vice president. I had the opportunity to travel and work all over the world, something I dreamed of as a youngster. You see freedom is great, but to be free you have to work and be responsible. This was taught to me at an early age by my parents and mentors. Yes, mentors, not the government or its programs.

I married my beautiful bride in 1960 and have remained so for 49 years. Our three children have all grown to successful, responsible adults and I now have two wonderful granddaughters. I have had a great life so far and I will continue to work hard to keep it that way. You may think this is a sentimental view of history and perhaps it is. After traveling the globe I know that I could not had such a great life in any other country in the world. Our Founding Fathers gave us a nation that allows you to rise or fall in freedom, the most precious of all man’s processions. For without freedom you have nothing the sovereign or state will not grant you. They decide what you will be and how you will live. Where you can travel and to what level of success you can achieve. The nanny state may provide creature comforts and security, but without freedom you are reduced to the level of your pet dog.

Lately, we as a nation have been forgetting what the Fourth of July is all about. Many schools no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance and he National399px-Kate_Smith Anthem has been banned on college campuses. Time magazine and pundits on TV are saying the Constitution is no longer needed and we need a nation ruled from Washington and devoted to “social justice.” We have 93,000 spectators ate the Rose Bowl, Pasadena rooting for Mexico and acting disgracefully to the playing of the National Anthem. Sousa and Kate Smith have been replaced with Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga. Yankee Doodle has been replaced with “God Damn America.”

This is not the country I grew up in and it makes me sad that my grandchildren will never experience that feeling of being an American. We will all be citizens of the world. How sad.

According to a report in USA Today on a Harvard study stating “Fourth of July parades and celebrations are “right-wing:”

Democratic political candidates can skip this weekend's July 4th parades. A new Harvard University study finds that July 4th parades energize only Republicans, turn kids into Republicans, and help to boost the GOP turnout of adults on Election Day.

"Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party," said the report from Harvard.

"The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans," write Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University Assistant Professor Andreas Madestam

Their findings also suggest that Democrats gain nothing from July 4th parades, likely a shocking result for all the Democratic politicians who march in them.”

So I guess, according to Harvard Democrats are not patriotic.

As I said earlier the Fourth of July is not about fireworks, Sousa marches and hamburgers, although our founding fathers did tell us to celebrate this day with song and illuminations. The true meaning, however, is about the bravery, wisdom and tenacity of our founding fathers who pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

On July 4, 1776, after months of heated debate, representatives of the Continental Congress voted unanimously that “these United Colonies are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

Thirteen colonies voted to become something new: the United States of America. All they had to do was to win their independence from a government that would consider them traitors.

Fifty-six men bravely affixed their signatures to the Declaration of800px-Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States Independence. What sort of men were they? And what became of them?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, 11 were merchants, nine were farmers or plantation owners. They were well-educated men of means. All of them had a great deal to lose when they voted to defy what was then the most powerful nation on Earth.

One of the signers was Richard Stockton, a distinguished jurist from New Jersey. At the conclusion of the meetings, he proudly affixed his signature to the Declaration, joining 55 other delegates. Each of them willingly risked everything when they pledged to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Sadly, the revolution was to cost Judge Stockton the first two. But he would never surrender the third.

As he returned from Philadelphia to his home in New Jersey, Judge Stockton was warned that British troops were coming to arrest him. He fled to a neighbor’s house with his wife and children. But a Loyalist, a supporter of the British cause, betrayed the family’s hiding place. Here is what happened next, as described in a called They Signed For Us:

“The judge was dragged from bed and beaten, then thrown into prison. This distinguished jurist, who had worn the handsome robes of a colonial court, now shivered in a common jail, abused and all but starved.

A shocked Congress arranged for his parole. Invalided by the harsh treatment he had received, he returned to (his home at) Morven to find his furniture and clothing burned, his fine horses stolen, and his library — one of the finest private collections in the country — completely destroyed. The hiding place of exquisite family silver, hastily buried, had been betrayed by a servant.

The Stocktons were so destitute that they had to accept charity. For the judge’s fortune was gone, too. He had pledged it and his life to his country. He lost both. He did not live to see the Revolution won.”

That account comes from a wonderful little book called They Signed For Us. It was written half a century ago by Merle Sinclair and Annabel Douglas McArthur, two patriotic ladies who wanted to help others learn more about the remarkable men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

At the end of today’s column, you’ll find a link that will take you to a copy of the book. You may read it online or download it and print your own copy. The file also includes a list of all of the signers and the States they represented, plus the complete text of the Declaration of Independence.

To whet your appetite a bit more, here’s another excerpt from They Signed For Us.

“SUDDENLY THE BIG BELL in the State House steeple pealed joyously. The appointed signal! Cheers rose from the waiting crowds.

“Proclaim liberty throughout the land’

Cannon boomed, drums rolled. Church bells rang, sounding the death knell of British domination!

News of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence spread like wildfire. Ready messengers leaped into their saddles to ride and spread the word. The Declaration had been ordered printed on a single large sheet, ‘45.5 x 37.5 cm.,’ or approximately eighteen by fifteen inches. These broadsides were distributed with all possible speed, to be read in the provincial assemblies, pulpits, market places, and army camps.”

The story continues:

“On July 8, the Liberty Bell summoned citizens of Philadelphia to the State House yard for a public reading of the document. Colonel John Nixon mounted a high platform and spoke the noble lines in a strong, clear voice. The crowd, now hushed, listened intently throughout.

‘…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.’

It was almost a month later that the Declaration was engrossed on parchment and ready for signing by the delegates to the Continental Congress. Members gathered on Aug. 2 for the ceremony.

The only person who had signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776 was John Hancock, a delegate from Boston who had been elected president of the Continental Congress. He wrote his signature in large, bold letters and as he did, in a reference to the near-sightedness of the British king, he declared, “There! John Bull can read my name without spectacles and may now double his reward of £500 for my head. That is my defiance.”

As the delegates gathered around a desk to sign the Declaration, William Emery, one of the representatives from Rhode Island, moved as close as he could. “I was determined to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrants,” he later wrote. “I placed myself beside the secretary, Charles Thomson, and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed on every countenance.”

Contrasting with Hancock’s confident signature was the shaky scratch of Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island. Hopkins, the second-oldest signer, suffered from palsy. As he handed the quill to the next person, he valiantly proclaimed, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not!

As one or two delegates hung back, seemingly reluctant to add their signatures to such a momentous declaration, John Hancock encouraged them. “We must be unanimous,” he said. “There must be no pulling different ways. We must all hang together.”

Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin replied, “Yes, we must all hang together. Or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Happily, none of the signers was hanged by the British. But all of them were considered traitors to the Crown. And many of them suffered terribly for the cause they so ardently supported.

John Morton, a delegate from Pennsylvania, was the first of the signers to die. His last words for his family, before his death in April 1777 (just eight months after he signed the Declaration), were, “…tell them that they will live to see the hour when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service I ever rendered to my country.”

The following month, Button Gwinnett, the commander in chief of Georgia’s militia, was badly wounded in a duel with a political opponent. He died a few days later — the second signer to die.

But by and large, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were a hardy bunch. Three of them lived until their 90s — a remarkable accomplishment in a time when most men did not see their 50th birthday.

Only two of the signers were bachelors. Sixteen of them married twice. Records indicate that at least two, and perhaps as many as six, were childless. But the other 50 signers were a prolific lot, having a total of 325 children between them. William Ellery of Rhode Island had 17 children; Roger Sherman of Connecticut had 15.

Fifty years after the united colonies declared their independence from Britain, plans were made for jubilant celebrations on July 4, 1826. Only three of the original signers were still alive: Charles Carroll, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Here is how Sinclair and McArthur describe what occurred that day:

In a dramatic climax that even their agile minds would not have contemplated, these two principals in the struggle for Independence left the nation awestricken and touched, by dying hours apart on the Fourth of July. Jefferson died at one o’clock in the afternoon, Adams toward evening.”

Ten days earlier, Jefferson had written the mayor of Washington, expressing his regret that ill health prevented him from coming to the nation’s new Capitol to join the festivities.

“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met … with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between the submission or the sword.”

He concluded by writing, “Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollection of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

You can obtain a copy of They Signed For Us by clicking here for it.

One last thing I will do over this Fourth of July weekend besides having our traditional barbeque is to watch a few patriotic films. One of my favorite Fourth of July films is Yankee Doodle Dandy staring James Cagney as George M. Cohan. It’s a real barn burner with Cagney singing and dancing to the music of George M. Cohan. The film was made in 1942 at the onset of World War II and features songs like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Its A Grand Old Flag and Over There, And if you’re an Irishman there’s a great rendition of Harrigan featuring a duet with Cagney and Jeanne Cagney. It’s a great “feel good” movie for the Fourth of July. Of course there are many other patriotic films you can watch. Just pick your favorite and enjoy the burgers and fireworks. It’s what the founders wanted. Click here for a video of Yankee Doodle as performed by James Cagney.

One last note on Cagney and Kate Smith they were both awarded the Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan.

Please remember on this Fourth of July to say a prayer for all of the men and women who have sacrificed their treasure, blood and lives so we may remain a free people who can live our dreams and weep over our failings. Trust in God and remember freedom is not free.

Happy Fourth of July and God bless and keep this Republic that so many have given so much for.

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