This weekend, we will commemorate the 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Admittedly, we will celebrate with less exuberance than previous years, but celebrations will occur across the land and flags will be flying high.
It has been a difficult year. While that may seem like an understatement for a year punctuated with tornadoes, a pandemic, political and social unrest and countless other individual and societal woes, it is these very difficult occurrences that should help us focus on the beginning of this experiment in self-government.
As we raise our flags this weekend, our thoughts turn back to a series of difficult years preceding the American Revolution, the years of 1763-1776.
The French and Indian War had just ended with a combined British and Colonial Army victory. In an interesting tactic based on the premise of requiring the “defended” colonies to pay for the cost of the war, the English Parliament began imposing various new laws, most designed to raise revenue from people who had no voice in the creation or passage of the legislation. However, we often forget that the road to revolution was not immediate. The timeline stretched across more than a decade, including several attempts at reconciliation.
The Proclamation of 1763, limiting migration across the Appalachians, stung the freedom-loving Scots-Irish immigrants of the South. For many of our ancestors, the promise of land equated to the promise of a prosperity that might guarantee an ability to farm the land, feed their families and establish a home that might become a future legacy. To be denied their own definition of freedom created unrest. That legislation was followed by additional acts and actions by Parliament that most remember from their days as students of American History: the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp and Quartering Acts (1765), the Virginia Resolution of 1764, a refusal to pay the taxes, the Townshend Acts (1767), the arrival of English troops in Boston (1768), the Boston Massacre (1770), the Tea Act and Boston Tea Party (17730, the Intolerable Acts and the calling of the Continental Congress (1774), the ‘shots heard round the world’ at Lexington and Concord (1775) and a final attempt at reconciliation via the Olive Branch Petition, rejected without debate by the English Parliament.
In the early days of 1776, Thomas Paine offered his thoughts about the grievances in a series of writings and his words struck a chord in the hearts of readers. “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. “
Weeks later, a Second Continental Congress, composed of arguably flawed individuals with an almost perfect dream of independence and self-government, approved a Declaration of Independence. The Declaration Committee, five very different men united by their desires for a yet unproven concept of a nation based on the will of the people, chose the young Thomas Jefferson of Virginia to pen the words that have inspired people around the world in the years since its first reading. “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 are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This weekend we celebrate those words and the dream launched by the Declaration of Independence.
The dreams of equality, justice and a government based on the voices of the people fueled the dream for all who heard the words and yet the actual words did not include all the people. The debated about issues related to slavery almost caused the assembly to disband. The possibility of recognizing the role of women in society and government was never even discussed, although mentioned frequently in Abigail Adams’ letters to her beloved John, a member of the Declaration Committee. There was no consideration for those native to this continent. Each are readily recognizable flaws today as we look backward more than two centuries.
Each era of our nation’s history has seen progress and, simultaneously, grievous actions on the part of individuals and our own government. It is paramount that we remember that we are human and that, as flawed and sometimes broken individuals, we have and continue to make mistakes. However, we as a nation have made advances toward that dream of liberty, equality and justice for all peoples. The road has been rough and there is still much work to be accomplished by people of good will, dedicated to the fulfillment of that dream. We have proven during countless tests of the past that, when we unite, we can overcome the evils that threaten our nation or, at least, make progress. We recall the valor of our patriot ancestors and we enjoy conversations with our ‘Greatest Generation’, remembering their fight against Nazism and totalitarianism. We honor those who have and are serving our nation here and abroad - - our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters. We recognize that our government “of the people” can take strong actions to correct inherent wrongs, i.e. the 19th Amendment, Brown v the Board (1954 and 1955), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 26th Amendment and more.
This weekend we celebrate the dream.
Linda Moss Mines