Independence Day

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Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution (1775-83). In June 1776, representatives of the 13 colonies then fighting in the revolutionary struggle weighed a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain. On July 2nd, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with typical festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.

I’m always curious what others are doing to celebrate the 4th. of July.  I worked my butt off yesterday to clean, shop and cook for a big party so we’re in the “casual family gathering and barbeque” category.  If I have time this morning and I’m as organized as I think I am we may wander down to the 6th. Street Parade but we’ll see.  The city will shoot off fireworks this year again, we’ve been dark lately because of budget cuts, and we’ll watch them from our balcony.  We have about 35 or 40 people coming and we’ll swim, play horse shoes, listen to music (which inevitably leads to dancing) and drink at least one keg of our son’s latest brew.

I enjoy this holiday, my grandfather (7 times removed) was a Captain in the Revolutionary Army who also had numerous slaves and apparently two wives on opposite sides of the river with 15 to 17 kids between them (reports vary).  I’m a sucker for a flag and a patriotic holiday.

Hope you all enjoy your day and the long weekend.

THE PAMPHLETEER

Washington maintained the spirits of the rag-tag Continental Army through his own qualities of leadership and courage and with the help of the pamphleteer.  Paine’s The Crisis and Common Sense were disseminated among the junior officers and ordered read to the men.  It is said these were the most effective propaganda materials ever seen until then, perhaps because they rang so true.  From The Crisis:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

My Top Five Founding Fathers

This was going to be a Top Ten list, but I ran out of time.  Have to get going to the town get-together for food, music, and fireworks.

5. Benjamin Franklin – Delegate to the Second Continental Congress; helped form what was to become the Declaration of Independence; as a diplomat to France during the war he played the crucial role in securing French military support against the British, without which the outcome of the Revolution would have been very different.  As an emissary to Britain, he worked hard to keep the colonies within the Empire, but once the Revolution started he never looked back – “We must all hang together, or we will surely hang separately.”

4. Thomas Jefferson – Incredibly smart; author of one of the finest documents every produced, the Declaration of Independence; as a diplomat to France was crucial in maintaining foreign relations with the new nation’s primary ally; third President.  Jefferson was a jumble of contradictions, both politically and personally, and I have many reservations about him, but he undeniably played a crucial role in the founding of the nation.

3. John Adams – Member of both Continental Congresses; was central to the choice of George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army;  instrumental in the drafting and adoption of the Declaration of Independence; first Vice-President and second President of the US.  One of my favorites.

2.  Alexander Hamilton – The epitome of the self-made man and a model for achieving what has become the American dream; he actively fought in the war; author of the Federalist Papers; as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary and trusted confidant of Washington, he almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the US’s rise as an economic power.  Easily the most under-appreciated Founding Father.

1.  George Washington – Architect of the defeat of the greatest military power in the world by a rag-tag group of untrained colonials; resisted the pull of establishing monarchical powers for himself;  precedent-setter for Presidential traditions including term limits.  Quite simply the single most important person in the history of these United States.

Honorable mention:

James Madison – Co-author with Hamilton of the Federalist Papers and the writer of most of the Constitution.

Thomas Paine – Author of Common Sense in 1776, a powerful treatise on the need for independence from Britain.

Samuel Adams – Brewer and patriot.  What more need be said?

How we got three branches -1775

This is largely due to little John Adams, according to his brethren including Jefferson.  Adams wrote this as part of his advice in 1775:

 

1. A single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual; subject to fits of humor, starts of passion, flights of enthusiasm, partialities, or prejudice, and consequently productive of hasty results and absurd judgments. And all these errors ought to be corrected and defects supplied by some controlling power.

2. A single assembly is apt to be avaricious, and in time will not scruple to exempt itself from burdens, which it will lay, without compunction, on its constituents.

3. A single assembly is apt to grow ambitious, and after a time will not hesitate to vote itself perpetual. This was one fault of the Long Parliament; but more remarkably of Holland, whose assembly first voted themselves from annual to septennial, then for life, and after a course of years, that all vacancies happening by death or otherwise, should be filled by themselves, without any application to constituents at all.

4. A representative assembly, although extremely well qualified, and absolutely necessary, as a branch of the legislative, is unfit to exercise the executive power, for want of two essential properties, secrecy and despatch.

5. A representative assembly is still less qualified for the judicial power, because it is too numerous, too slow, and too little skilled in the laws.

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This reasoning was adopted in VA by Madison, in NY by Jay and Hamilton, in MA (of course) and in NC, before or during the Revolution.  It was rejected, for a time, by the new nation, but this advice ultimately seeded the Constitution that replaced the AoC.

The Speech

One of my favorite moments of the American independence movement has always been Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Convention in March of 1775.   The official beginning of the Revolution, the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on April 19, were still a month away, but the situation had been coming to a boil for some time.  A year prior Massachusetts had been placed under British military rule, and on February 9, 1775, the British Parliament had officially declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.  Delegates had been sent from Massachusetts to seek support for the nascent independence movement, and conventions had been formed in the various colonies to discuss what to do.  There is no official transcription of Henry’s speech that day of March 23, 1775, but his first biographer, through notes, contemporary accounts in newspapers and interviews with people who were there, was able to piece together what was said and what is now recognized as the speech he gave.  We are all aware of Henry’s most famous conclusion, but I think the speech itself, and especially the final two paragraphs, are equally moving.

MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

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 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? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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!

Report on Manufactures

5 Dec. 1791Papers 10:302–4

A Question has been made concerning the Constitutional right of the Government of the United States to apply this species of encouragement, but there is certainly no good foundation for such a question. The National Legislature has express authority “To lay and Collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the Common defence and general welfare” with no other qualifications than that “all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United states, that no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid unless in proportion to numbers ascertained by a census or enumeration taken on the principles prescribed in the Constitution, and that “no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state.” These three qualifications excepted, the power to raise money is plenary, and indefinite; and the objects to which it may be appropriated are no less comprehensive, than the payment of the public debts and the providing for the common defence and “general Welfare.” The terms “general Welfare” were doubtless intended to signify more than was expressed or imported in those which Preceded; otherwise numerous exigencies incident to the affairs of a Nation would have been left without a provision. The phrase is as comprehensive as any that could have been used; because it was not fit that the constitutional authority of the Union, to appropriate its revenues shou’d have been restricted within narrower limits than the “General Welfare” and because this necessarily embraces a vast variety of particulars, which are susceptible neither of specification nor of definition.

It is therefore of necessity left to the discretion of the National Legislature, to pronounce, upon the objects, which concern the general Welfare, and for which under that description, an appropriation of money is requisite and proper. And there seems to be no room for a doubt that whatever concerns the general Interests of learning of Agriculture of Manufactures and of Commerce are within the sphere of the national Councils as far as regards an application of Money.

The only qualification of the generallity of the Phrase in question, which seems to be admissible, is this–That the object to which an appropriation of money is to be made be General and not local; its operation extending in fact, or by possibility, throughout the Union, and not being confined to a particular spot.

No objection ought to arise to this construction from a supposition that it would imply a power to do whatever else should appear to Congress conducive to the General Welfare. A power to appropriate money with this latitude which is granted too in express terms would not carry a power to do any other thing, not authorised in the constitution, either expressly or by fair implication.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON

The Founders’ Constitution
Volume 2, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1, Document 21
http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/a1_8_1s21.html
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by Harold C. Syrett et al. 26 vols. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961–79.

It gives me chills

There are many dates that could have been adopted as America’s Independence Day.  The Continental Congress officially voted to approve a resolution of independence on July 2, 1776 and John Adams even predicted, in a letter to his wife, that the 2nd day of July “will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. ”  He was wrong.  The Declaration of Independence was  adopted by the Congress 2 days later, and it was officialy read in public for the first time on July 8, while Washington ordered it read in front of the Continental Army on July 9.  There is some dispute as to exactly when it got signed, but it was definitely not signed by all signatories until well after July 4th, and it was eventually signed by some people who were not even in Philadelphia when it was adopted.    November 30th, the date of the signing of the Paris peace treaty ending the American revolution is probably the date on which American independence was actually and officially achieved.

Still, from the outset, July 4th became the day of celebration for American Independence.   It was first celebrated in Philadelphia in 1777 with fireworks, toasts, parades and speeches, thus setting a tradition that we follow to this very day.   The fourth of July has become such an iconic phrase that we often forget that it even refers to  a date on the same calender used by everyone.  Canada’s independence day, July 1, is often referred to by Americans as Canada’s Fourth of July, and if you ask someone if the British have a fourth of July, you are likely to get a laugh and a “Of course not”.

Only two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence ever managed to go on to become President of the United States, first John Adams from Massachusetts and then Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and it is interesting that of all of the signers, they were the ones who survived the longest.  The two had had a very interesting history together.  Early on in the revolutionary movement, they had forged a friendship, but following independence and during the forming of the new nation, they found themselves on opposite sides of the  political spectrum, and subsequently became bitter enemies.  After each had served his term as president and began to step away from national politics, the friendship was tentatively renewed, and eventually grew again with many letters passing between them.

By 1826, they were the only two remaining of the men who signed the original Declaration of Independence.   Old and failing, as the 90 year old Adams lay on his death bed in Massachusetts, it is reported that his last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives.”  If this is indeed what he said, he was wrong yet again, for the 83 year old Jefferson had died 5 hours earlier down in Virginia, on the same day.

The day was July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence.

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