When most of us think of July 4th we think of fireworks, family gatherings, barbeques and a day off from work. But underneath the celebration and familiar is one of the single most important days in our nation’s history, marked to commemorate its …
When most of us think of July 4th we think of fireworks, family gatherings, barbeques and a day off from work. But underneath the celebration and familiar is one of the single most important days in our nation’s history, marked to commemorate its independence and the birth of a new idea among men.
It wasn’t the day the Declaration of Independence was written or the day the document was signed. It was the day of adoption by the delegates of the Continental Congress.
The original document is housed in the Charters of Freedom rotunda in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. This magnificent piece of American history has faded over the years due to inferior preservation methods of the 19th century, but it remains intact, legible and present for all Americans to view. It has been years since I’ve seen it in person during a family vacation to Washington, but it was an experience that has remained with me. To see the signatures of these great men up close adds an element of the human, moves it from a fact to an experience and was incredibly, moving knowing all they risked at the time.
There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence with five of those being tasked to draft the document. Thomas Jefferson composed the greater part of it as he was the strongest writer in the group and the most eloquent among a number of impressive voices. Another important American patriot, John Adams, also affixed his signature that day. Adams and Jefferson, who became mutual admirers and fast friends, were the only signers to later hold the office of President. Both men died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration’s signing, within hours of one another, with Adams perishing last, mistakenly declaring, “Jefferson survives.” Pennsylvania representative Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old at the time, was the oldest signer. The youngest signer was the 26 year old South Carolina representative Edward Rutledge.
Even though Independence Day did not become a federal holiday until 1870 and a paid federal holiday until 1941, John Adams believed that the day should have been recognized as a religious holiday – “it ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail, “This day will be the most memorable epic in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” He was right. Some 237 years later we remember those brave men who added their signatures and gambled their lives and fortunes together, to create one of the most important documents in our nation’s history. To begin, as Lincoln later noted in another famous declaration among his countrymen, “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
So this year take time to remember those men and the courage they displayed, the hope they stood upon to found a great nation, our birthright, to create and pass that remarkable legacy of freedom to us. Maybe do a little reading and reflect on that for a time. Stop by the library and check out a book about these events. Become more familiar with the events and men who shaped their and our future and share that knowledge with your family.
I highly recommend David McCullough’s “1776” or “John Adams.” He is a master at bringing history to life in an amazingly entertaining fashion. His history tomes are well researched, immensely readable and incredibly accessible. “John Adams,” by the way, won him his second Pulitzer Prize. McCullough once wrote that “history is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”
In other business news, mark your calendars for the next Market Day in Blackburn Park – Saturday, July 8 from 7 a.m. until noon. Sponsored by the Old Town Bay Minette Arts Council, the event features homemade, handmade and homegrown items. Stop by and find something wonderful!
Joanna Bailey is the director of the Bay Minette Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org