Thursday, July 3, 2008
4th of July Facts (or Fiction?)
July 2, 2008 Chatterbox Betty Kaiser It must be the Fourth of July. Fireworks stands are popping up like weeds on every corner. July 4 is all about independence and the establishment of our country as a nation and fireworks are the ultimate celebratory symbol of our nation’s joy. With their bright, glowing and noisy exuberance against the black night they say, “Wow! Look at us! We’ve come a long way since 1776. Let’s celebrate!” Today let’s take a little trip down memory lane. A historical trip, if you will. One that may bring back memories of chalk dust and test questions; an amazing trip to remind us how far we have come and how much we have changed in just a few generations. A trip to remind us of our beginnings. In our lifetime, there has always been a United States of America. But once upon a time, just over 200 years ago, this country that we know today, was just 13 colonies primitively banded together by a desire for independence from Great Britain. Freedom was on the lips and in the hearts of every man, woman and child. Weary of being shackled to another country; of fighting battles over basic principals of decency that they couldn’t win, they toppled a giant and became one. Contentiously hammered out by our founding fathers, and largely written by Thomas Jefferson, the Continental Congress formally adopted the document we know as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It proclaimed to the world that there was a new kid on the world stage. These formerly “wanna-be-independent” colonies were now free of the tyranny of Great Britain. Free of “taxation without representation.” Free to act on their own beliefs and to begin a new world way of life (right after they fought a few wars!). On July 6, The Pennsylvania Evening Post printed, posted and distributed the now famous document for the general public to read. On July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration was held in Philadelphia’s Independence Square. It was a festive atmosphere accompanied by the ringing of bells and band music. The following year, July 4, 1777, Philadelphia set the standard for future Independence Day celebrations. Congress adjourned and the fun began. Church bells rang, cannons were shot from ships, candles illuminated windows and the night sky was lit up with fireworks and bonfires. Ours was a poor upstart country fighting a rich nation. George Washington was barely able to keep his small army together for lack of supplies, defeats in battle and weather. We all remember the image of the freezing, struggling troops and “Washington Crossing the Delaware” as portrayed by artist Emmanuel Leutze. But ultimately this rag tag army prevailed with the help of the French. Stories abound about the true origins and significance of our flag, national anthem, pledge of allegiance, the American Bald Eagle, and other beloved symbols. Some are true. Some aren’t. But all are thought provoking about the circumstances of their creation. The cracked Liberty Bell is a beloved symbol of that era, known for its inscription to “Proclaim Liberty thro’ all the land.” However, it probably didn’t ring in 1776 because the already the Philadelphia steeple holding it was rotten and in need of repairs. The bell no longer rings at all but every year it is symbolically ‘tapped’ 13 times on July 4 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Children who are descendants of signers of the Declaration of Independence do the honors while other bells across the nation ring 13 times in honor of the patriots from the original 13 states. Good old Uncle Sam became the personification of the U.S. during the War of 1812. He was supposedly modeled after a wealthy man and was popularized by artist Thomas Nash. Today his image is often ridiculed but he was formerly adopted as a symbol of the best ideals of these United States in 1961. Although historic research has failed to confirm that Betsy Ross did indeed sew the first American flag, I love the possibility. One legend says that George Washington was bent on using 6-pointed stars. Betsy supposedly changed his mind by demonstrating how to cut a 5-pointed star with one snip of the scissors. Being practical men, he and his committee okayed the change. It’s interesting to contemplate the different settings that inspired songs of national significance. Francis Scott Key set the words of the “Star-Spangled Banner” to the tune of an English drinking song during a battle in the War of 1812. Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist during the Civil War. She wrote the stirring “Battle Hymn of the Republic” after hearing troops go into battle singing “John Brown’s Body.” Another woman, Katharine Lee Bates penned the words to America the Beautiful while sitting at the summit of Pikes Peak. The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of U.S. because of its long life, strength and majesty. Soaring above the trees, it represents freedom. It is said that during one of the Revolution’s first battles that the noise awoke sleeping eagles. They flew from their nest and circled over the battle with raucous cries. “They are shrieking Freedom’!” cried the patriots. Of course, Ben Franklin thought turkeys were a better choice but that’s another story. Finally, located in New York Harbor, stands one of the most enduring and universal symbols of the reason this country was founded — the Statue of Liberty. This gift from the people of France was packed into 214 crates and shipped to the people of the United States in 1885. It still symbolizes political freedom and democracy all over the world. Happy 4th of July everyone! Celebrate freedom and cherish the memories — but leave the fireworks to the professionals! Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Read her weekly columns in the Cottage Grove Sentinel.