by Hank Boerner
Happy Birthday, USA Independence!
Every year by order of the U.S. Congress we set aside this day to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by the courageous leaders of the 13 original states along the Eastern seaboard of this continent.
This was an action taken by the Second Continental Congress of the 13 “United States of America” gathered in Philadelphia — [a]n unanimous decision by “the Founding Fathers.”
The First Continental Congress had met in Philadelphia in September and October 1774 to arrange for a mutual resistance to British rule.
The first skirmish would be in April 1776 at Lexington and Concord and the War of American Independence was on.
In May 1776 the Second [meeting of the] Congress would instruct the individual states to start putting new constitutions together for self-rule.
Meeting in Philadelphia in July (2nd to 4th), the Congress would declare American Independence and adopt the Declaration.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration’s text boldly states,”that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain un-alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The text noted that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…56 representatives from the various states would sign their names.
Some of course familiar: John Hancock. Thomas Jefferson. Robert Morris. Benjamin Franklin. William Floyd. Richard Stockton. Samuel Adams. John Adams. Roger Sherman…and many more.
The first major battle of the war would be in what is now Brooklyn, Long Island, New York (Kings County), the Battle of Long Island — with masses of British army and naval forces coming close to defeating the small Revolutionary American Army, and the long and brutal War of Independence (from the rule of England) would ensue, continuing until 1781.
Early in the war, the Delegates of the States assembled (November 15, 1777) to agree to a “confederation” of the 13 states and to a “Perpetual Union” between the states.
The War of the Independence of America would end at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. The Treaty of Paris would finally end the war in September 1783.
On March 1, 1781, the members of the American Congress would agree to “ratify” The [1777 drafted] Articles of Confederation (13 in all), to officially create these “United States of America.” The powers of the Congress are spelled out in these pages.
And then came one of the most momentous of documents of humankind: The adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America, with Articles hammered out and set before the assembled Congress on September 17, 1787 and on March 4, 1789 the Constitution was formally adopted in the new nation’s capital, New York City.
Along with certain Amendments (which we know as the Declaration of Independence) — Amendment #1 being that Congress will make no law regarding [establishment of] religion; nor prohibit free exercise of religion; or abridge freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; or to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.
These are echoes of the 1776 grievances embodied in the Declaration of Independence firmly “amended” to the Constitution. Over the years the first 10 have been expanded to 27, the last adopted May 7, 1992 (dealing with Congress establishing compensation for the members).
How bold/courageous/inspiring: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union…”
When I was in grade school, after World War Two ended and the peacetime returned to the United States, the State of New York assembled many of the important documents that explained the long, arduous steps to American (and state) freedom, and took these around the Empire State by train.
The railroad cars that I visited in my hometown station had facsimiles of state charters, minutes of the legislature over the years, letters of leaders (like Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), and the New York State ratification of the Constitution of the United States on July 26, 1788 — with the first 10 amendments which were suggested by the state (not included in the Constitution but also as the first of the amendments).
We youngsters were shown the Federalist Papers; the original draft of the Pledge of Allegiance (1892); documents relating to the Freedom of Religion (the Flushing Remonstrance); the transcript of the Trial of printer John Peter Zenger (1734 – helping to establish the principle of Freedom of the Press in New York City); the newspaper published in 1849 in Seneca Falls, NY by Amelia Bloomer — The Lily — the first to be owned, edited and published by a woman…lending support to the fight for equality in voting by women); the document from the legislature in March 1799 — AN ACT FOR THE GRADUAL ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, taking effect the following July 4th, 1800!
And more: the documents establishing Freedom of Education (in New York State); others advancing Science and Manufacturing (which included establishing Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); Freedom of Labor (establishment of Civil Service Law; 1945 anti-discrimination law signed by Republican Governor Thomas Dewey, who would stand for election as President of the United States two times).
The idea for the New York State Freedom Train began in November 1947, when the National Freedom Train came to Albany, the state capital city. The National Train was on tour with its collection of important documents and in the city for one day only.
The state librarian was so impressed that the office began assembling the collection of Freedom Documents that would be put on a bright blue and gold, 6-car state train and taken all over New York State beginning in January 1949 (three cars were full of the documents). As I said, we school age children were taken for our “official tour,” and reading the many documents was something quite impressive and that I remember to this day.
How many children in America — or adults! — are exposed to these important documents that are related in so many ways to the Declaration of Independence, whose signing we celebrate today with fireworks displays?
How many families would go visit the assemblage of such documents – or on a national of state basis – in these busy times?
Maybe…we need another Freedom Train (where rail lines still exist) to help to tell the story of American Freedom, and the part that each of the original 13 states played in establishing these great United States of America.
Happy Birthday, America!
# # #
Postscript from Hank Boerner – July 6, 2017 – the Washington Post on July 5th:
“Some Trump supporters thought NPR tweeted propaganda. It was the Declaration of Independence.”
The story: As it its tradition on July 4th, the staff of NPR’s “Morning Edition” program tweeted out the Declaration of Independence, Since 144 character is a challenge, this took 113 consecutive posts for the entire text. Then the blowback began, explains Post writer Amy B. Wang. Quite a few people took issue with the “propaganda,” thinking it was about President Trump.
Hmmmm….very interesting! The parts that attracted real blowback included…
…He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.”
,,,”A Prince who character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unit to the ruler of a free people.”
Was this about Trump? NO — King George III of England was the subject of the Founding Fathers’ complaints in the Declaration! The Post writer points out that the text and purpose of the Declaration would likely be recognizable by those who have applied for U.S. citizenship — since questions about the document are on the naturalization test. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a list of study materials in case you or someone you know might be interested.
But a lot of people seem to be un-familiar with our foundational documents (that’s why I took the documents as the theme of my commentary on America’s Birthday).
The Post had four thousand-;plus of Tweety-bird responses to the story and NPR staff said “the tweets were shared by thousands of people and generated a lively conversation.”
My post above is based on facts — the actual document (our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution with our Bill of Rights — and I guess some might consider this propagandizing. Guilty as charged.
You can read the Post’s story and some of the responses, and comments on the the NPR Tweets at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/05/some-trump-supporters-thought-npr-tweeted-propaganda-it-was-the-declaration-of-independence/?utm_term=.14470aa78db8&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1