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Why we celebrate the FOURTH of JULY: aka signers of Declaration of Independence were signing own death warrants.
It's the nation's birthday that I want to discuss.
In point of fact the Declaration of Independence was neither adopted or signed on July 4, 1776, The Continental Congress actually voted for independence on July 2, and the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence didn't come until Aug. 7, according to the National Archive, but things are celebrated when we celebrate them. We are probably lucky our Congress hasn't arbitrarily decided to mark "Independence Day" on the second Friday in July just because.
What those men did in a poorly ventilated hall during the steamy summer in Philadelphia deserves recognition and honor.
In a way, to me at least, it is sad that we mark this auspicious day with picnics, and small boys, including adult males who are still small boys, playing with small explosives and little rockets.
Since I'm a newspaper reporter, I think of myself as a small "h," historian and I've always been fascinated by the Declaration of Independence and the men who authored it.
The reality of 1776 is that what would become the United States was then nothing more that a loosely associated collection of colonies who certainly thought of themselves as New Yorkers, or Virginians rather than Americans.
As a nation we couldn't have worked our way up to the status of a 98-pound weakling on the
international stage, but even so on that July day the Continental Congress thumbed its nose at our mother country, Great Britain, which also happened to be the biggest bully on anybody's block. In their declaration Congress said things out loud that had never been whispered before. They claimed the "right" to separate themselves from Britain,
Generations beyond number had accepted the concept that monarchs, by their birth, had been chosen by God to be rulers, and newborn America said that common men were "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."
This claim could not have been more revolutionary, in any sense of the word, and for its makers more deadly.
Writing these words made all of the men involved guilty of high treason in the eyes of the British crown. They had quite literally signed their own death warrants, a fact that was not lost on the declaration's signatories.
They pinned their hopes, their lives, their families, and their fortunes on a dream, and 235 years later every person who carries the title American is the beneficiary of that dream.
As much as it pains this native son of the land of the free and the home of the brave, the dream is not fulfilled. As a nation and as a people, we are not all of what we could or should be, but I have walked the streets and breathed the air of countries on six different continents, and like Dorothy once repeated, "There's no place like home," and I'll tell anybody she was right!
Roger H. Aylworth is a staff writer with the Enterprise-Record. His column appears every Sunday and he can be reached by email at raylworth@ chicoer.com.
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