The birth of America: July 4, 1776
Our forefathers, in attempting the redress of many oppressive actions by the Kingdom of Britain in the mid-1700s, were just seeking the full free democratic rights of other Englishmen under King George.
However, the British considered the American territories as just colonies to be used and exploited in whatever way best suited the kingdom’s interests. This attitude ensured that armed conflict was inevitable. It came the morning of April 19, 1775.
British soldiers, sent to these shores to keep the colonists in line, advanced on Americans, first in a meadow in Lexington and then later near a bridge in Concord, Mass. – shots were fired and later immortalized in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson which begins with these words: “Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world.”
America was then no longer just negotiating for its rights – it was fighting for them. America’s 13 colonies with their rag-tag army of men of all ages and professions, under General George Washington, was at war with the greatest army in the world.
History tells us that there was no one singular event that led to the American Revolution. Maybe so, but there was one great need: Freedom! We, as Americans, had to be free. Patrick Henry said it best in 1775 with these words, anticipating that war may be needed to achieve the Colonies' goals: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”
Even once hostilities broke, many of those in the colonies’ Second Continental Congress in 1776 still hoped for a settlement with Great Britain that would not only save them from the gallows – Britain had declared rebels to be traitors subject to death – but also make them full citizens of the British Empire.
That was not to be. As they debated issue after issue it became clear that only independence as a nation would give them the freedom they desired. The final debate on the great issue of independence began with these words on Friday June 7, 1776:
“Resolved… That these United Colonies are, and of a 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.”
This resolution was then followed by days of debate and backroom dealings and agreements, as Thomas Jefferson prepared the first draft of the Declaration. Finally, on July 2 – a rainy day with frequent cloud bursts as they met in Philadelphia – a vote was taken and independence was declared.
A final, more official vote on the Declaration of Independence as we know it was then taken on July 4. It was our birth certificate as a country, opening with these words:
“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…”
We were free but it would take years of war – with great hardship – to finally defeat our former masters. The outcome of the war was uncertain until the end with the surrender of the British army on October 19, 1781.
We were then, as President Lincoln later said at Gettysburg, "a nation, conceived in liberty." It is that liberty that makes us Americans, and to be American is to be uniquely free.
Uniquely because we've come here from so many places with so many backgrounds – and yet we live so well together, enjoying our ability to be ourselves, to do what we want within our democratic laws and society. Not always perfectly, but always freely. We are many people, but as Americans, we are one.
God bless those who make our freedom possible. We repay them by using our liberty well. Happy birthday, America!
Mel Maurer lives in Westlake.