Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
That Americans love to celebrate is rarely more evident than the Fourth of July. Fireworks, picnics, beer and baseball have sway, with often just a bit too much stress on the beer. For most of us born in this country, all of our lives it has been this way. As kids it was a time for firecrackers and sparklers and as teens a time to party. For the few weeks prior to the traditional early summer celebration people greet neighbors and friends with, “What are you doing for the Fourth?”, it being understood that they mean the Fourth of July. And on the Fourth of July itself, it seems the whole country just shuts down. The streets and roads take on an eerily silent aspect until dusk, when neighborhood after neighborhood explodes in fireworks glory.
Yes…Americans do love the Fourth of July!
As I have gotten older, however, I have found myself increasingly wondering if most Americans really know what they are celebrating on Independence Day? Considering what has happened to our nation just since the end of World War II, a period of seventy years, it is easy to see why one would wonder. Just recently we have become aware of spying done by the National Security Agency for many years on the e-mails and private communications of average American citizens. During this time we have witnessed our Constitution and Bill of Rights become eroded to the point that the 2nd Amendment is considered by many Senators and Congressman to be outdated; and the President can now take us to war without a declaration from Congress (which is required by the Constitution), as has happened in Korea, Vietnam, both Iraq wars and Afghanistan. Recently I was listening to a radio commentator and he reported that most American teens score worse on the citizenship test that immigrants must take to become an American citizen than the immigrants do. A young friend, who had completed high school not too long ago, recently asked me if I knew who we were fighting in the War of 1812 and why? He really did not know that it was the British we fought in that war–the same British that we had defeated only 30 years earlier to gain our independence. Understanding this, the question is a reasonable one: do we Americans, as we brandish our sparklers and eat our Fourth of July BBQ, really get what this holiday is all about?
So, feeling like I do, I thought I would take a few moments to explain—what about the Fourth of July? What is it that makes this day more than just a day to party?
It is commonly understood that on the Fourth of July we celebrate Independence Day; that day in 1776 when the original 13 colonies at last broke from England determined to form a new nation. What may not be known is that this was far from an instantly unanimous and easily arrived at decision. There is a great deal to know about the founding of our nation and, with another Fourth of July now upon us, we could all stand a little refresher. With your permission, then, let us all hop in the “Way-Back Machine” and take a trip backward through time.
We have arrived in Philadelphia in September of 1774. The First Continental Congress, with representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies, is meeting in response to the “Coercive Acts” (called the “Intolerable Acts” by the colonists), which are laws passed by the British Parliament in response to the “Boston Tea Party”. Now you have all heard of the Boston Tea Party, but perhaps have forgotten the specifics. One night in November of 1773 anywhere from 60 to, by some accounts, 200 rabble rousers, most of them members of a radical group that wanted independence from England called “The Sons of Liberty”, dressed themselves as Native Americans, boarded 4 British ships and dumped their cargo of tea, over £10,000 worth ($1.5 million today), into the Boston harbor. Their reasons for doing this stemmed from their protest of a chain of events that had started with the nearly bankrupt British East India Co. raising the price of tea from 2 shillings to 3 shillings a pound. As a result a thriving market was created for Dutch tea which still sold at 2 shillings. To halt this price competition and support the East India Co. the English Parliament then granted East India Co a monopoly on American tea distribution, thus wiping out the colonial merchant middle men and enforcing the higher East India price. All of this was done without the Colonies having any representation in Parliament and therefore no say in the matter.
So, in May of 1774 Parliament passed the “Intolerable Acts”. These laws literally shut down the Boston port until full restitution was made for the tea tossed into the drink by the radicals, thus punishing the bulk of Boston citizens instead of those who actually destroyed the tea. The laws also dictated that the colony’s executive council would no longer be democratically elected but instead would be appointed by the King; and, as well, limited town meetings to one per year. Other laws restricted justice procedures in the colony. These laws, from the colonial view, were the latest in a series of arbitrary actions by the King and Parliament that imposed taxes and conditions on them in which they had no say.
In passing the “Intolerable Acts” the British hoped to detach and isolate the Massachusetts radical element from the rest of the colonies. Instead the reverse effect was created, as the other colonies, observing the Massachusetts example, reasoned the same could happen to them; and to some degree they started rallying to the aid of Massachusetts. This is what led to the convening of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in September 1774; at the same time sowing the seeds of what would become the United States of America.
The Massachusetts delegation to the First Continental Congress is led by a unique pair: a Boston attorney named John Adams and his well educated but radical, brewer cousin Samuel Adams. Samuel is a leader in the “Sons of Liberty” and one of the instigators of the Boston Tea Party. At this first Congress the Adams cousins are lobbying hard for a strenuous response to the hated British laws, but in the end many delegates are opposed to conflict with England. The result, after weeks of deliberation, is a decision to boycott British trade and a petition to the King for a redress of grievances. Both Adams cousins are frustrated with what they consider a weak response from the colonies. They know that no one will adhere to the boycott and that King George III will ignore their petition. From Samuel Adams’s view it is a spineless action agreed to by those who are placing their personal interests above the greater cause of liberty. It is the the kind of thing that would prompt him a year hence to state:
“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 
We move forward, now, to the spring of 1775. Word has arrived that the King and Parliament have rejected the petition of the prior fall. The pace is quickening toward revolution with violence erupting at the battles of Lexington and Concord, two small towns just a few miles outside of Boston in Massachusetts. The British General Thomas Gage is ordering his troops to confiscate colonial arms and ammunition suspected to be stored in the two towns and also, if possible, to capture and hang Sam Adams and John Hancock. (Hancock was one of the Boston Merchants heavily affected by British efforts at restricting trade and imposing taxes and was, along with Sam Adams, an early advocate of independence.) Alerted by the famous “midnight ride” of Paul Revere, the farmers and shopkeepers first meet the British troops at the Lexington village green on the morning of April 19th, 1775. Howard Fast in his book “Citizen Tom Paine” describes what happens next:
“The British troops marched to within a dozen yards of the villagers before their commanding officer, Major Pitcairn, ordered them to halt. For long moments the two groups faced one another; it was a moment the redcoats were trained for, but the farmers’ hands were wet on their guns. Then Major Pitcairn spurred to the front of his troops and roared, ‘Disperse!’
“The farmers growled.
” ‘God damn you bloody rebels, lay down your guns!’
“It was there, hot and terrible; they were rebels. This idea that they had conceived, that they should be free men with the right to live their lives in their own way, this tenuous, dream-like idea of liberty that men of goodwill had played with for thousands of years had suddenly come to its brutish head on a village green in Lexington. The farmers growled and didn’t lay down their guns; instead one of them fired, and in the moment of stillness after the roar of the big musket had echoed and re-echoed, a redcoat clutched at his tunic, and then rolled over on the ground.”
That unknown farmer or shopkeeper on the village green that morning fired the “shot heard around the world”. With that shot commences the first battle of the American Revolution. Before the day ends 73 British soldiers are killed and 170 wounded with colonial casualties of 49 dead and 39 wounded.
Once more we hop forward in time. It is now several weeks later; May 1775, and the 2nd Continental Congress is convening, again in Philadelphia and, again, debate is raging over splitting from England or trying to reconcile. In the middle of this debate the delegates are getting word of the battles of Bunker and Breeds Hill outside of Boston at which 400 colonial militia are killed while inflicting over 1,000 casualties on the British. This time John Adams and the Massachusetts contingent are making a much stronger case, but still many in Congress, including the admired and respected John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, are arguing for a peaceful solution.
The debate between Dickinson and John Adams is becoming heated. At one point Dickinson warns:
“You New England men will have blood on your heads should you continue to refuse to consider peaceful options.”
Which prompts a vehement response from Adams:
“Powder and artillery are the most efficacious, sure and infallible conciliatory measures we can adopt!”
To which Dickinson retorts:
“What is the reason, Mr. Adams, that you New England men oppose our measures of reconciliation? Look, ye! If you don’t concur with us in our pacific system, I, and a number of us, will break off from you in New England and we will carry on the opposition by ourselves in our own way.”
Again, and despite the blood being shed in Massachusetts, the deliberations are bogging down. Though George Washington is appointed as Commander in Chief of what is now being called the Continental Army, the strongest measure the delegates are authorizing is something called “The Olive Branch Petition”. Drafted by Dickinson and a young Virginian named Thomas Jefferson and passed despite the protests of the Adams cousins, the petition is a last resort appeal to King George III and Parliament to reconcile differences and avoid war. This meeting of the Continental Congress is not willing to confront or make the final break from England. Independence is going to have to wait.
Our “Way Back” machine is now moving us a few months forward in time. It is early 1776 and the situation in the colonies is being inflamed by the publication of the pamphlet “Common Sense” by a transplanted Englishman named Thomas Paine. The pamphlet quickly sells over 100,000 copies, an astounding number considering the publication and distribution limitations of these times. “Common Sense” makes the case to the common man for splitting from England and, as well, attacks the British monarchy as a tyranny. In Paine’s own words from Common Sense:
“Oh ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been haunted around the globe. Asia, and Africa, had long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! Receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”
While “Common Sense” is spreading through the colonies like a wildfire, the 2nd Continental Congress reconvenes in Philadelphia in February, 1776. Word has come that King George III has spurned the Olive Branch Petition and is stating that anyone persisting to support the notion of independence will be considered a traitor and upon capture will be hung. On hearing this Pennsylvania delegate and Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin quips:
“Gentleman, we must all hang together or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
With the effect of “Common Sense” popularizing the cause, along with the King’s petition rejection, public opinion is starting to swing in favor of independence. John Adams, Sam Adams and others realize now is the time to press for the split from England. They understand that to win independence from England the Colonies will need help, probably from France, and that unless they are willing to assert their independence they have no real right to expect any other power to assist them.
The “Way Back” again brings us forward in time and lands us in early June, 1776. A group of delegates led by those from Massachusetts (John and Sam Adams) and Virginia (Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson), are pushing hard for the break from England. Other delegates, such as Benjamin Franklin, are supporting them. The independence faction is still opposed by Franklin’s fellow Pennsylvanian John Dickinson and his allies. A resolution is proposed by the Virginian Richard Henry Lee:
“Resolved…That these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent states, that they are absolved of 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 so begins the debate. Though momentum for independence is mounting, Dickinson and others are still making spirited arguments for reconciliation. It is becoming as hot inside the Congressional chamber as the June days are outside. Even now, just weeks before that famous first ever 4th of July, independence is a conclusion far from forgone.
On June 10th a recess is called for 20 days so that delegations can consult with their home colonies for instructions. It is during this 20 day period that, at the request of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson writes the Declaration of Independence. It is the intention of Adams, Franklin and Jefferson that when Congress reconvenes in early July, the Declaration be ready for review and debate.
The “Way Back” now jumps us forward a couple more weeks to July 1st, 1776. It is hot in Philadelphia. Realizing the moment is at hand John Adams prepares to engage in the debate of his life. Indicating that he fully grasps the importance of the occasion, a few days earlier he writes to a friend:
“Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.”
Under no delusions as to the cost to be paid for the freedom he is fighting for, that very morning of July 1st, 1776 Adams writes the following to his friend and former delegate from Georgia, Archibald Bulloch:
“This morning is assigned the greatest debate of all. A declaration, that these colonies are free and independent states, has been reported by a committee some weeks ago for that purpose, and this day or tomorrow is to determine its fate…The object is great which we have in view, and we must expect a great expense of blood to obtain it. But we should always remember that a free constitution of civil government cannot be purchased at too dear a rate, as there is nothing this side of Jerusalem of equal importance to mankind.”
Opposing Adams on this day is, of course, Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson. Now, you would think that Adams and Dickinson, after nearly two years of wrangling over the issue, would have said all that could be said on the subject of independence. But no…Dickinson is determined to make one last stand on the matter, and Adams is equally determined to rebut. Like the great attorneys they are, they martial all of their powers of persuasion and reason in one last, all out effort to swing the delegates to their cause.
The gavel falls and the President of the 2nd Continental Congress, John Hancock, calls the day’s proceedings to order. Dickinson is the first to speak. Aware that the tide of opinion is turning towards independence and revolution, he states his case:
“My conduct this day, I expect, will give the finishing blow to my once great…and now too diminished popularity…but thinking as I do on the subject of debate, silence would be guilt.”
And he then goes on to make his argument against the measure of independence and sums up as follows:
“No Gentlemen…to escape the protection of Great Britain by declaring independence, unprepared as we are, would be to brave a storm in a skiff made of paper.”
Impressed by the passion of Dickinson’s words, it is a solemn group of delegates facing John Adams as he takes the floor following the distinguished Pennsylvanian. Presently Adams starts to speak, and once he starts he continues for over an hour. No transcription is made, nor are any notes kept of Adams’s speech on this day. Writing later about the moment, however, Thomas Jefferson stated that John Adams was:
“… not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent, but he spoke with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.”
Richard Stockton, a delegate from New Jersey, stated that Adams was “the Atlas” of the hour. He was, according to Stockton:
“…the man to whom the country is most indebted…He it was who sustained the debate, and by the force of his reasoning demonstrated not only the justice, but the expediency of the measure.”
John Adams speech this day is the most important of any in his life and, it can be argued, of any in the history of the United States. In the vote that follows, on July 2nd, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress passes the resolution to dissolve political connections with England by a count of 12 for to 0 against with one colony (New York) abstaining. The split from England is now a fact. The Declaration of Independence, revised somewhat from Jefferson’s original words, is approved on July 4th, 1776 with the exact same vote of 12 to 0. (New York, again, abstaining). Forever more its famous words will serve as inspiration to freedom loving people everywhere:
“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.” 
The Declaration goes on to enumerate the reasons that impelled the delegates and their colonies to this action of independence and then concludes with:
“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.” 
It is now done. Those signing the Declaration and those in the colonies supporting them are willing to risk everything for Liberty!
Our tour of the events leading to our nations founding now complete, the “Way Back” machine is depositing us back in the present. It has been a fascinating trip. In looking back at that era, it is clear that John Adams was one of those rare individuals who had a full appreciation of the historical importance of what he and the other founders were accomplishing, even as they were doing it. With regard to what he and the Continental Congress had done in voting for independence from England and the importance of it to future generations he had this to say:
“The second day of July 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.”
I think we can excuse John Adams for being two days off in his prediction as to the day of celebration, don’t you? His forecast of “shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations” was and is uncannily accurate.
And so we celebrate the Fourth of July. But as we do, we as Americans should keep in mind that we have a great deal to learn from the men and women who founded this nation. Benjamin Franklin once said:
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.” 
This is something our Founding Fathers were well aware of. They may have been flawed as individuals, but that they were willing to and did pay the price of freedom is something no one can today question. When they voted for independence and signed that Declaration they took their lives in their hands. I wonder sometimes, in looking at what they did, would we have the courage to do the same?
It is, in many ways, because of their foresight and willingness to put it all on the line for freedom that we now exist here today with the same opportunity. This is a legacy too precious to waste. We face challenges in our day every bit as dangerous to liberty, if more covert, than those faced by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the others in their day. Let it not be said of us that we were not equal to the task. Do all you can to understand what is at stake and to protect our rights and freedoms as guaranteed by our nation’s founding documents.
And one day, if Liberty wins, future generations will look back at us, as we look to that founding band of brothers, with reverence and respect for what we did to ensure that night’s curtain did not fall on freedom.
Dedicated to those whose constant vigilance, willingness to fight back and sacrifice have always and always will pay the Price of Freedom!
Note: All quotations except as footnoted or noted in the text are from David McCulloch’s book “John Adams”.
Except for quoted material, Copyright © 2009, 2012 by Mark Arnold,
All Rights Reserved
 Samuel Adams: from a speech at the Philadelphia Statehouse, Aug 1st 1776
 Thomas Jefferson: from the Declaration of Independence
 Thomas Jefferson: from the Declaration of Independence
 From the Geek “epoche” meaning “a fixed point in time”
 From the motto on the title page of “An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania”, published in 1759 by Benjamin Franklin