On this July 4, 2017, the United States of America celebrates its birthday, our 241st year of independence from Great Britain. On that momentous day, Americans were given the eloquent Declaration of Independence that has served as a freedom template for countries across the world.
The Declaration declared that the 13 colonies, then engaged in a revolutionary war with Great Britain, were now independent sovereign states, no longer under royal rule. A new nation, the United States of America, was born.
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,
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, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Memories of a Little Boy
My first memories of the Fourth of July, 73 years ago, are those of an 8-year-old boy living in Washington, D.C. It did involve fireworks, but not the major Capitol Mall displays that my family and I later enjoyed when I was a member of Congress from Maryland.
My mother, Florence, had passed away the previous Christmas in 1945; the following summer, my father and my big brother, “Bumpy,” (he fell down a lot when he was a kid) got into our 1937 Packard Six and drove to Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, to visit my late mother’s relatives.
When we returned after the Fourth of July, we were shocked. The canvas awning on the front porch of our D.C. house hung in burnt tatters, with the roof scorched. Some naughty kid had celebrated his independence by throwing a lit sparkler into the air!
Today, before we grill hot dogs and break out the cold beer, I think we would will do well to consider seriously what this day meant in our past, and what it means now.
A great many people have disturbing memories of July 4, not the least being King George III of England. Indeed, on October 19, 1781, as British general Lord Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown, the military band is said to have played a tune, “The World Turned Upside Down.”
For America’s first five presidents, all Founding Fathers, the Fourth of July not only celebrated their great achievements, but it was also their last day. Three of America’s first five presidents died on Independence Day. John Adams, 90, in Massachusetts, and Thomas Jefferson, 83, at Monticello, bitter rivals during their political careers, died as reconciled friends hours apart on July 4, 1826.
James Monroe, the fifth president, died on July 4, 1831. On a happier note, a favorite of mine, the 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.
A House Divided
Purposely, or pathetically ignorant of our country’s history, media talking heads have hyped the fallacy that after the election of 2016, we the people are so deeply divided that political rancor, bordering on group hatred, hints at violence, even revolution.
On June 24, the London Independent reported that the U.S Anti-Defamation League had urged U.S. police to be on high alert for violence, from both the extreme right and the extreme left. The headline: “Is a Second Civil War in the Making?”
Alarmists conveniently forget our alternating national history of both serious divisions and renewed unity. They ignore the stark differences that have divided “we the people” on past Independence Days.
Fifty years ago, engulfed in anger at the Vietnam War, America saw street battles with police outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They forget extreme-left zealots arson and bomb attacks, including at the U.S. Capitol, inside the Pentagon and on many businesses.
American unity was in question even during the Revolutionary War, as colonists divided into pro- and anti-British factions. By 1776, about 60,000 British Loyalists were expelled from the new United States.
The Civil War attempted to enforce American unity between the North and South at the cost of 750,000 deaths; 2.5% of the entire U.S. population died fighting each other, the equivalent of 7 million Americans today. In my own state of Maryland, at Antietam, on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history occurred, with a tally of 22,717 dead, wounded or missing.
Two World Wars, and too many other wars, have demonstrated varying degrees of American unity, but only momentarily. All these wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan, have produced 1.4 million U.S. deaths, 1.6 million wounded and over 41,000 missing in action.
With such macabre statistics in mind, I suggest we review President Lincoln’s solemn pledge at Gettysburg in 1863. Our question now is whether we as a people still “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”?
In June 1858, Abraham Lincoln — a little-known, 46-year-old Springfield attorney and the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois — debated his well-known Democrat opponent, Senator Stephen Douglas. The central burning issue for Americans was slavery.
Hinting at the eloquence Americans would soon come to know, Lincoln famously gave us a warning about national unity for our own day and time:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
That choice is ours.
May God bless America.
Yours for liberty,
Bob Bauman, JD
Chairman, Freedom Alliance