Spotlight: Independence Day
There’s a scene in the mini-series John Adams in which Second Continental Congress President John Hancock reads aloud a letter from King George III responding to the colonists’ request for full representation and relief from military occupation.
The letter did not just reject those requests; it stated clearly that any and all colonists who did not submit to British rule would be considered traitors and subject to execution.
That threat is probably the source of Benjamin Franklin’s warning “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” as well as the closing sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “We pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
That wasn’t boilerplate. By declaring their independence from the greatest military power on the planet, they knew they were putting everything – even their lives - in jeopardy.
The courage, audacity and determination it took to sign the Declaration on that broiling hot day in Philadelphia led John Adams to exclaim in a letter to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will 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 … bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Adams's prediction was off by two days. From the outset, Americans celebrated independence on July 4, the date shown on the much-publicized Declaration of Independence, rather than on July 2, the date the resolution of independence was approved in a closed session of Congress.
Not only had no other group of people in human history dared to risk so much in defiance of a great power, no other had succeeded in throwing off a colonial yoke permanently.
There is a lot to celebrate in America and about America, a lot of solemn historic commemorations. But none of them would be possible without that original act of courage.
So celebrate Independence Day this year with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more. And in celebrating our independence, let us give thanks to men and women throughout our history who helped secure our independence, service members and veterans.
BENJAMIN F. ADAMS, III
Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs