I have heard this story many times growing up. I have heard it, much in the same way people told their stories for thousands of years before devices like radios and televisions began to tell us different stories. This was the kind of story which was passed down from family member to family member, issuing from the lips of those local boys to their sons and to their grandsons, and those men told that story to their grandsons and so on. I heard it from the lips of my own father much in the way he must have heard it from his own great-grandfather, a veteran of the Army of the Potomac. It is a good story because it rings of truth and it lets us into the mindset of the people of that time, a time when leaders engaged in intimate relationships with their people and people felt an obligation, even at a young age, to their own. I have told this very same story to my own son, on more than one occasion, and he has since taken to repeating it whenever we happen to pass by the spot where those young boys once promised to do their duty to the father of their country.
The Fourth of July is significant for good reason. Not only did we declare our intention to be a free people, a people able to determine the course of our own destiny, unencumbered by the yolk of tyranny, we did it in such a way as to suborn the rights of individual liberty to the rights of a people. Consider that thought for a moment and imagine if you have ever experienced it before, as a modern American. How often do we, even the most aware of us, submerse our lives into the greater life of our people?
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...”
One people. Not a seething mass of scattered individuals, as we have come to understand our place in the onerous rush of history, standing as we are on the fragile ground of the current era, but rather a common, united people. Not a yammering horde of combative lobbies, elbowing their way to a place at the trough. These men cared not a whit about the individual on that summer's day over 225 years ago, although they certainly planned that those rights would be preserved should their cause prevail. Instead they were focused intently on insuring the continuation of a people who would guide their way through history based upon their commitment to one another and their children's children. The Founding Fathers understood that, in the words of my grandfather, you dance with the one who brought you. Despite our zealous defense of personal liberty, we willingly send our genetic inheritance into the ash heap of history. Women abort their unborn as a matter of course, by the millions. Many who do carry children to term carry those of another race, almost a quarter of a million a year, discarding thousands if not millions of years worth of finely tuned DNA in favor of a mate who despises what her own people have created. We have abandoned our responsibility to watch over and protect our youth from the degradation and dissolution of a crumbling culture to pursue our own selfish ends. We have stood by idly while our hard won liberty has been slowly and inexorably stolen from not only this generation, but from our posterity. We have taken a precious gift and tossed into the mud.
Twenty-five years ago, a group of friends and I climbed up to High Point, the aptly named mountain top in the northwest corner of New Jersey. The Kittatinny Mountains are not a particularly impressive range, but they are among the oldest mountains on earth and from the top the view overlooks New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, all in the same sweeping vista. It was the Fourth of July and we had climbed up that evening to watch the fireworks. As the sky darkened we looked out over the endless horizon as towns as far away as Morristown, Newburgh and Manhattan fired their rockets and bombs into the sultry summer night. It was not like the typical in-your-face kind of fireworks displays one sees at a fairground, but rather like a soft unfolding of fireworks, something akin to a field of fireflies on a warm June evening. Even the sounds of the explosions when they made it to the mountain top were muted and calm, like the air that we breathed. It was a celebratory event and under the velvety spread of sky and stars and it seemed possible to imagine what the first Americans were thinking when they knew that their cause had prevailed, that they were, for the first time in their lives, free. We climbed down in the cooling air afterwards, quietly, immersed in our own thoughts yet together, like a squad of soldiers descending towards camp. Two of us joined the service not long after that, the others have gone off into the world and I have not heard from them since.
I have never been back to High Point, although I plan on it one day, hopefully with another group of young men who, like my son, understand what this Nation represents and how, in a crucible it was refined into something purer and more righteous than anything that existed before. I watch fireworks on occasion, although I have noticed a trend, at least on the east coast, where towns shoot off their fireworks displays on the 7th or the 10th or whatever Saturday or Sunday takes place closer to the 4th. I have heard all the arguments about people being out of town, or how weekends are more convenient, but I think I understand quite clearly what is taking place by dislocating the event from the celebration. Much in the same way that Merry Christmas became Happy Holidays and the Pledge of Allegiance became an unwelcome infringement, the celebration of what took place on a certain July day, centuries ago, has become an anachronism.
The United States of America today, is not the Nation those men wrested from their oppressors and carved out of this continent and the men at the controls know it. That is their reason for marginalizing our history and for disparaging men far greater than themselves. It is the reason that February no longer brings to mind George Washington, but Martin Luther King Jr., a man who could not keep his vow to his wife or write his own words, but rather had to steal them from others. I have no idea what this man means to the Blacks who dwell amongst us, but to me he means nothing at all. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. I don't know you and you don't know me. We don't speak the same language, we don't think the same way, our values are different and our needs are at odds. We are no longer a Nation.
I think about that story of Washington entering the classroom and what would happen if he did that today. Half of the kids would ignore his command as “unfair” or “sexist.” One would be unsure of his gender. Two of them would run out the door, assuming his uniform was that of an INS officer. The shortest would sue the tallest and the rest of them would say that they were going to college, even if they couldn't spell it. But maybe, just maybe, one of them would stand up against the wall and bravely raise his hand, proudly, with reverence and think for a moment of something beyond himself. He would answer the call because he would understand that it isn't about rights or needs or even about him. Its about the people. And he would know that he is one of them.
Every year we do have one tradition we celebrate at our home for the Fourth of July. Each year we take an old hatchet and pin a copy of the Declaration of Independence on an apple tree in the yard. My father used to be the one who read it, but I have taken on the responsibility. My wife used to think it was corny, but she doesn't think so any more, and my son has come to look forward to my reading, no matter how long it takes. Even the neighbors kids have made it a part of their celebration. And I read the whole thing, including the names at the end, because I know what it represents and how important it is that we remember their sacrifice on this single day each year. Sometimes I don't appreciate the words in the way that I should, but this year I will, because this year I know that the time is near when I will have to stand up and pull on my boots, and finish what it was that they started so many years ago when they wrote...
“...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness...”
By a show of hands, how many of you will be willing to serve your country?
Have a very inspirational Fourth of July.