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Viewpoint: How independent are we today?

July 1, 1993

Viewpoint: How independent are we today?

By Joe Baker

How independent are we today?

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

This week we again observe that greatest of all American secular holidays, Independence Day. We commonly refer to it as July 4th and firmly believe that is the historical fact.

It is not so. The Declaration of Indepence was not adopted or proclaimed on July 4th, 1776. That’s right. The Pennsylvania Evening Post of July 2, 1776 reported: “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies free and independent states.”

A lot of our history is like that. We steadfastly cling to declarations that are just myths. We don’t like to let facts get in the way of a good story or a good tradition.

We probably believe the above about the Declaration because it was published on July 4. One 19th-century scholar was so fond of the idea that when he discovered a letter written by John Adams to his wife on July 3, declaring that July 2 would forever afterward be revered as the birthdate of the nation, the scholar changed the date to the 4th and redated the letter July 5.

Congress did not celebrate independence until July 8, when they had a parade and some fireworks. General George Washington’s troops, who were encamped in the rural reaches of New York state, did not know about it until July 9th. Down the coast, in Savannah, Georgia, word didn’t arrive until August 10, and Europe had to wait until August 30 to get the news.

Most of us, I think, envision the Declaration being proclaimed to cheers and hurrahs, and then the members of Congress put their names to the document.

In actual fact, historical records show most congressmen signed on August 2nd. A few signed later, and one, not until 1781. Only John Hancock and Charles Thomson, president and secretary of the Congress respectively, signed on July 4th.

We also like to believe this was a consensus document and sailed smoothly and swiftly through the newly-created legislative body. There was strong opposition to the idea of breaking from British rule. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against it. Delaware’s delegation was split, and New York’s did not vote. Most of these colonies

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later came around, but there were rough moments at the birth of the nation.

We’re all familiar with those hallowed words of the Declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” Did they really believe that? Jack Greene, a colonial historian, said: “No idea was farther from their minds. When they talked about equality in a social or economic sense, they meant no more than that each man should have an equal right to achieve the best material life he could within the limits imposed upon him by his ability, means and circumstances.”

Surely the Founding Fathers were for democracy? Historian Charles Beard wrote that most of the drafters of the Constitution considered “democracy as something rather to be dreaded than encouraged.” The word “democrat” does not appear in the Declaration, the Constitution or any other document associated with the creation of the country. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Yet they gave us a democratic republic and set in place the guidelines for preserving that republic. Jefferson warned us of the price of freedom. “The ground of liberty,” he said, “is to be gained by inches, and we must be contented to secure what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”

So here we are, a couple of hundred years or so down the road, still a young nation, yet the most powerful and envied in the world. But how much of our original inheritance have we kept?

The Communist Manifesto contains these planks: • abolition of private property • a graduated income tax • abolition of all inheritance • confiscating the property of all dissidents • creation of a monopolistic central bank to control • credit • centralize all communication and transport • state control over the means of production • state control of all capital and creation of a deployable labor force • combine agriculture and manufacturing • free public education for all children.

That is the blueprint for the workers’ paradise. Compare that with the ringing promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Ask yourself how many of the 10 planks of the Manifesto have come to pass here? How many are being promoted in our legislative halls? What will July 4th signify in 20 years? Will it even be remembered?

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