Social media tends to give those of us who participate in it an interesting glimpse at how people think about Independence Day. Other holidays too, but particularly the patriotic ones. Aside from the lack of creativity (everyone changes their profile photo to a waving-in-the-noble-breeze American flag and says “Happy 4th everyone!”), there’s a lot of thanking the military for upholding and protecting freedom.
I’m down with that.
But there is a forgotten faction of that militia, and I hate for us to misremember the way our independence was declared. It was early in the struggle, just less than two years after the first Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, that 56 men met and argued for hours and days over exactly what independence would mean for these colonies they had created – colonies which did not always agree and, indeed, often fought openly about the ramifications of their freedom from King George III’s tyranny.
It was this fighting, this conflict, in a hot and airless chamber of a building still standing, that first truly won the nation’s freedom, a freedom signed in ink before blood on July 4, 1776. From this, a purpose for guns and bombs was gelled. The fighting had begun long before, on principle and on blood-stained ground, but it was a loosely-held union that faced the redcoats of the King’s army.
It was the unequaled might of the pen that sealed the bonds against Britain.
We don’t celebrate that much. We manipulate their document and the Constitution that followed to score points against those with whom we disagree, but we don’t often offer proper reverence to the 56 men who were willing to put their lives on the line not in front of rifles and cannons but in front of each other, who left their weary wives and children in Boston, in Wilmington, in Charleston and Atlanta, to travel on horseback for weeks and face the threat of sacrificing their sons for the sake of the shaky ground on which they dared to stand firm.
These were noble men, great men, brave and strong and carrying the weight of a new way of life on their limited shoulders.
Soldiers are hailed as heroes and often – but not always – deserve to be. Founders are relegated to history as men in funny hats who blew hard, only regarded as Founding Fathers when it’s convenient to rhetoric.
Who really is responsible for America’s freedom? Who really is ennobled by the distinction of setting forth the cause for which all American fighting – some of it misguided – has come since?
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee.
Richard Henry Lee.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Robert Treat Paine.
Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Freedom forever to be defended under the flag and the sword – because of these men.
Let us never forget.