Families are strengthened when parents teach the real reason why we celebrate the Fourth of July. Children need to know that Independence Day is much more than a holiday to watch parades and fireworks, have a barbecue or go camping. They need to be taught that the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776, and why this knowledge is important to them.
When I was a child, our family celebrated the Fourth of July - one of the few summer days when we were not actively working on the farm, but I do not remember ever hearing it called Independence Day. Early each July 4th, my father would use some dynamite to blow up the stump of an old tree. The resulting BOOM would wake the rest of us. We would then do the morning chores of milking the cows and feeding all the animals. We would also haul a load or two of hay to the pasture where our farm animals would spend the day. By providing plenty of food for them, we did not have to worry about them escaping from the pasture.
After taking care of our animals, we loaded lots of good food in the truck and drove up into the Uintah Mountains to spend the day. Dad might have done some fishing, but I don't remember. I do remember that we always stopped by a river where we played in the cold water, and we also played some softball and other games. We thought "pine gum" was the best stuff! The food was special because it was something we did not usually have at our house - things such as watermelon, puffed wheat or rice to snack on, white Wonder bread for our baloney sandwiches, and other yummy foods. One important job that we did on these trips was to fill some buckets with good, dark mountain soil for Mom's houseplants to replace the alkali-laden soil at home. We always left the mountains in time to arrive back at the farm in time to milk the cows and do our other evening chores.
My husband's family used the holiday to travel to Montana where they floated the Madison River fishing for big brown trout. This was such an important activity to his family that we spent part of our honeymoon floating the Madison River with them. We have a large brown trout hanging on our wall as a memento of our honeymoon.
My husband and I continued the same type of activities with our own children. The Fourth of July always meant a camping trip for my children. On the rare occasions when we did not go camping, we watched the parade in downtown Anchorage and spent a lovely day together before watching the fireworks at midnight. Sometimes we attended a double hitter baseball game that ended shortly before midnight and the fireworks.
My parents and my husband's parents failed to teach us the importance of Independence Day, and we continued this bad tradition. We followed the examples of our parents and never mentioned the real reason why we celebrate the Fourth of July. It is only in recent years that I have realized what a great opportunity I lost to teach my children about the birth of our nation, patriotism and love of country. This is one of the reasons why I write this blog - trying to make up for lost opportunities and to keep them from making the same mistakes.
USA.gov tells us that the "Fourth of July is Independence Day. Independence Day honors the birthday of the United States of America and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks, and a reason to fly the American flag."
I was a little disappointed that our own government had so little to say about the day, but I felt better when I read further: "Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in `self-evident truths' and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country."
The "shot heard 'round the world" started the Revolutionary War and took place long before the colonists declared independence. British troops went to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams on April 18, 1775. They were unable to capture them because of the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn the two leaders. The warning by Revere brought out the Minutemen - men who were ready to fight in a minute - to meet the British soldiers in Lexington.
Captain John Parker, commander of the Minutemen ordered: "Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they want a war let it begin here." The Americans were actually withdrawing when someone fired a shot, but no one knows who fired it. The British soldiers started to fire at the Minutemen and then charged with their bayonets. Some Minutemen were killed, and others were wounded. The rest of the Minutemen disappeared into the woods.
The British learned that Hancock and Adams had fled so they marched towards Concord. They had received reports from spies that the rebels were storing weapons and ammunition at a nearby farm, and they marched to destroy the cache of arms. When the British reached Concord's North Bridge, they were met by Minutemen, and a terrible battle took place. Between the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord, the British lost 273 soldiers while the Americans lost 94; 18 of the Americans died during the Battle of Lexington.
John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776. This letter is now famous as it describes Adams' thoughts on how Independence Day should be celebrated. According to www1.american.edu, the "following is the exact text from his letter with his original spelling: `The Second Day of July 1776, 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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.' (The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, Harvard University Press, 1975, 142.)"
According to this letter from John Adams, we should celebrate with parades, shows, games, sports, bells, guns, bonfires, etc. Also according to this letter, Independence Day should be celebrated with "solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty." I believe that it is entirely proper for us to gather either in family groups, Church groups, or community groups to express our appreciation to God for our independence. Our gatherings could include prayer, music, and the spoken word as well as flying the Stars and Stripes and reading part or all of the Declaration of Independence. (Copy follows this post.)
It is important that all Americans review the Declaration of Independence and renew their own commitments to maintain the freedom, liberty, and independence we enjoy. No Fourth of July celebration should take place without a discussion of the fact that we celebrate the Fourth of July because it is our Independence Day. Parents can strengthen their families by teaching the real reason for this holiday.
"THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE in Congress, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people 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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
"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, -That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
"He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
"He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
"He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
"He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws of Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
"He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
"He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
"He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
"For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us;
"For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States;
"For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world;
"For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent;
"For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury;
"For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences;
"For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies;
"For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments;
"For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
"He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
"He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
"He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
"He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
"Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
"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."
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor,
James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee,
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
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