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Friday, July 1, 2011

July 4th & Independence

Well, it’s the July 4th Weekend! I’ve been looking forward to cooking out, the beach and the day off!

Why do we get this random day off every year marked by parades and cookouts? They have a July 4th in every country in the world, but no one else celebrates it?

The reason, of course, is because it is Independence Day, the day the Continental Congress of the 13 Colonies of the fledgling United States decided 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” as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence states.

One of the 13 colonies was what is now the State of Connecticut, and 4 delegates from the state signed the document.

All of those who signed the Declaration were essentially signing their own arrest warrant for treason, and in fact all the signers had warrants for their arrest issued by the British government. They state in the document that “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.” Most lost their fortunes, several died early deaths from being forced to run and hide, and for a time the honor of all of them was suspect. After all, who defies the king?

The 4 signers from Connecticut were fairly lucky. They all lived to see the end of the war. 2 of them became governors of the state. One was the mayor of New Haven. You can read more about about Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, Samuel Huntington and William Williams if you would like.

At the time of the signing, on July 4th 1776, the war was not going well. Britain was one of the most powerful countries in the world with one of the best equipped and well trained armies in the world. The paradigm at the time was that the King was the head of state and had a “Divine Right” to the throne. No one thought that the people had a right to decide who would be the head of state, or had a right to truly and independently govern themselves.

These men who signed the Declaration did not know if they would succeed in their endeavor. There was a bitter disagreement in the Congress as to whether this was the correct way to resolve the issues they had with Britain.

These men were extremely courageous to do this, and I think we sometimes forget that in all the hoopla surrounding the 4th. We see the United States as it is. They saw it as it could be.

The HBO mini-series John Adams is not only great television about a complicated, interesting and truly great man, but it also put forth a realistic view of what life was like for him and those living at the time.

The series also did a wonderful job showing the gravity of the proceedings and arguments these men had about independence, which, let's face it, was basically a debate about whether or not to commit outright treason! It features Adams giving an approximation of his speech on July 3rd that reportedly swayed many of the members to vote yes in the July 4th vote. Take moment and watch the videos below, especially the video of Adams’ speech, which is powerful and moving.

John Adams’ Speech

Voting for Independence

So, this weekend, pause and reflect on these men who saw what could be, and went for it, instead of doing what was expedient for themselves in the short term.

These men, many of whom lost their lives and fortunes, secured for YOU the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, happiness as YOU see it, not as someone else sees it for you.

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