SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
We have a holiday coming up that many refer to as the Fourth of July, also known as Fireworks and Cookout Day. Its proper name is Independence Day, in that it’s the anniversary of the day thirteen of England’s New World colonies declared they wanted to be their own separate countries. (Canada opted out.)
Then, as soon as they became separate countries, they un-separated and became the United States.
Only about a third of the population really wanted to be independent; another third kinda liked being part of the most powerful empire in the world, and the last third just didn’t care one way or another, as long as they were left alone. In other words, people haven’t changed much from then to now.
This whole thing came about because a bunch of people who dressed funny sat in an un-air conditioned room during a heat wave, and decided they were upset about just about everything. This is why riots usually begin in the summer, people.
So the group, known as the Continental Congress because they happened to be on a continent at the time, put five men to work drafting something they called a Declaration of Independence: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
Surely you’re familiar with all those guys? Okay, most of them?
In the tradition of committees everywhere, they mostly sat around and gossiped about King George while one man, Jefferson, did all the work. He wanted Adams to write it, but Jefferson was the only one with a portable desk, what with him being the man who invented it.
John Adams was so happy with the result that he declared that day would be remembered forever with “pomp and parade, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, illuminations, and Franklin’s newly patented break dancing routine”. Quite the prognosticator.
Unfortunately, Adams was referring to July 2nd, the day the Second Continental Congress actually approved the resolution for independence. (The First Continental Congress did little, approving only the Continental Breakfast Resolution that provided for food wherever George Washington slept.)
It wasn’t until two days later that the Congress actually announced the Declaration, giving them time to go through poll information and plan fact-finding trips to the Caribbean. In fact, everyone in Congress except John Hancock waited until August 2nd to sign the thing, just to make sure Hancock wouldn’t get hanged by the British.
So you see, it isn’t just these days that Congress holds off on taking chances.
It made me wonder about other things I’d heard related to the Declaration of Independence, so I checked out an old story about the hardships the fifty-six signers went through. As is usual, some of the story is true, and some of it not so much.
Five signers were captured by the British, who were probably a little peeved about the whole thing. Four of those five had left Congress to actually fight alongside the Rebel troops, which just goes to show you how boring Congress was. The fifth was dragged out of his bed by British sympathizers just after he evacuated his family from New Jersey. The angry Tories punished him by making him stay in New Jersey.
About a dozen had their homes ransacked and burned during the war. However, looting, vandalizing, and burning homes of people you didn’t like was a big pastime back then, because they didn’t yet have hockey or soccer.
Nine signers died during the war, but only one from gunshot wounds. And … ahem … those wounds were received in a duel with a fellow officer. Remember, they weren’t big on organized sports back then, so you had to pass the time however you could.
The truth is, a lot of the signers went through hardships not because they signed, but because they happened to be in a nation that was revolting against its parent country. Some of them lost their lives, or the lives of relatives; some went through great financial difficulties; some were hounded and hunted by the British. In other words, they risked their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor”.
Some went out and fought with the troops against the British. Some stayed in politics for years, thus endangering their very souls. One sailed over to France and carried on with the royal court and a bunch of French women, but hey – it’s Benjamin Franklin. What can you do?
One of them was named William Whipple, and wasn’t that punishment enough?
(By the way, Whipple was a very successful military leader, so it would probably have been best not to make fun of his name to his face.)
What lesson do we take from this? That we’d still be British, if we’d only had air conditioning? That the real opiate of the masses is organized sports? That you can get named Button Gwinnett, grow up in Georgia, and still survive to sign the Declaration of Independence?
Another lesson is that when good people are faced with hardship and oppression, they can face the challenge, do what should be done instead of what can be done, and accomplish great things – even if it goes against their personal interests. That’s reason enough to remember the reason for the holiday.
Even if they did dress funny.