Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Greitens: Remember our founding fathers and have fun
I loved Fourth of July as a kid.
Thanksgiving had food. Birthdays had gifts. But Independence Day had magic. We’d invite friends and neighbors over. Dad would light the grill. My brothers and I would pile our plates high, and then some. There was always room for an extra piece of pie. We’d enjoy the warmth of food and company until the Missouri sun set. Then we got down to serious business: fireworks!
In school, we learned that the Fourth of July was our nation’s birthday. They taught us about the American Revolution. We learned the familiar names: George Washington, John Adams, Patrick Henry. We studied the fierce battles: Bunker Hill, Lexington, Concord. We heard the famous lines: “Give me liberty or give me death!” and “These are the times that try men’s souls.” To a boy, it was a story of great action and adventure.
We were taught that it all started on a hot July day in 1776. That’s when fifty-six merchants, farmers, laborers, and lawyers did something incredible: they declared their own freedom from a king. They signed their names to a parchment and agreed to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” The country they built didn’t exist yet. So their oath was to one another. It was my first taste of patriotism.
I learned more. I learned that on the day of the vote for independence, there was doubt and debate. King George was powerful, his army the strongest in the world. If they declared independence, every man in the room would be guilty of treason. They thought of their families and their countrymen. The years ahead would be bloody and long.
Was it worth it?
Legend has it that, at this moment, an older gentleman stood up. We don't know much about him. We don't even know his name. But we know what he did. He gave the speech to end all speeches. He listed every awful thing the King had done, and he spoke of what was at stake: the ability of the men in that room and their families to breathe free air.
His voice grew hoarse. With the little strength left in him, he finished: "They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. The words of this declaration will live in the world long after our bones are dust!…To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment! Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck…Sign, and not only for your selves, but for all ages, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever."
And that was that. The fifty-six men declared independence. They led their country through war. Some of their names we know; some have faded with time. All of them we honor on this day. We are their descendants, and we have been given their greatest gift: the nation they built free and strong.
Our Founding Fathers had hoped that we would use some part of today to remember them. And we will. But they also wanted us to have fun! John Adams, in a note to his wife, believed that Independence Day would be “celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward for evermore.”
So cherish the day. Light up the sky. Celebrate with your loved ones. Eat too much pie. It’s how they would have wanted it.
Happy fourth everyone!