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Why we celebrate the 4th of July

Independence Day is approaching, and undoubtedly will be greeted with the usual celebrations, parades, fireworks and waving flags. All is well, but these things do little to express the meaning of the holiday. A better definition can be found in the works of writers and speakers from before and after July 4, 1776. On that momentous date, the Declaration of Independence was published, informing the world, and particularly England's King George III, that we were not going to be his colonies anymore.

The Declaration of Independence has changed the world forever. It is written in succinct wordage understandable by everyone who reads it. After a brief introduction it spells out rather thoroughly why we were breaking away from Great Britain`s grasp. It goes this way:

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"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights 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…"

Next comes a brief evaluation of King George III:

"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."

This is followed by pages of specific condemnations of King George for his mistreatment of the colonies. It concludes thusly:

"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."

It was signed first by John Hancock and then other leaders from each of thirteen states, previously called "colonies."

Prior to the Declaration, many people were convinced that war was certain to happen. Such was Patrick Henry who in March, 1775 proclaimed:

"…They tell us, Sir, that we are weak — unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be in the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? ... There is no retreat but in submission or slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable; and let it come! I repeat, Sir, let it come!... Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

Some years later, President Abraham Lincoln advised us:

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure."

He closed with this: … we here highly resolve… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

In the midst of the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key was held captive on a British warship engaged in battle with our Fort McHenry. Key waited anxiously through the night to know if his country's flag was still flying. It was and he later wrote a poem describing the event. His poem was set to music and widely sung for many years. It was, of course, "The Star Spangled Banner" which Congress, belatedly in 1931, made our official United States National Anthem.

Despite the seemingly casual treatment of Key's poetry for so many years, it is by far the most meaningful national anthem of all nations that we occasionally hear. It pictures our young nation, onescore and eighteen years old, fighting for its life against a foe which would return it to its previous, colonial position, a foe which undoubtedly would be much less compassionate than before. It recounts the history of that single event which probably preserved the independence so cherished by Americans today.

So now we can go ahead with the pyrotechnics and parades, always remembering that our Independence resulted from the words and deeds of many brave men before and maintained by many brave men after that great day, July 4, 1776.

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Robert E. Wolfe, Parkville

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