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The Tentacle


July 6, 2005

July 4th's Rights and Responsibilities

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The 4th of July has always been one of my cherished holidays. As a student of history, I have accepted July 4th as the celebration of the American Spirit.

In the history of the world, it marks the beginning of a series of events that can only be accepted as the providence of a higher being and a true testimony that as Americans; we have been tested and blessed.

With that blessing comes equally great responsibilities and purpose. "God did not bring us this far to drop us on our heads;" and we must understand that due to the great sacrifices and hardships endured by the fathers and mothers of the Declaration of Independence and this great nation, we are required to accept even greater responsibilities.

So many folks these days want to talk about their "rights." So many do not seem to understand that these rights have been as a result of enormous and unimaginable sacrifice and hardship and that, what we ought to be preoccupied with, 229 years later, is our responsibilities.

The American Declaration of Independence and the ensuing American Revolution are events in history, whose success was forged by unparalleled heroism and an indomitable spirit. It has carried the United States to unmeasured achievement against all odds. However, it is only a wonder that our great experiment with freedom and democracy did not fail - almost as it began.

The Continental Congress had adopted a resolution for independence on June 7, 1776. After the fact, Congress asked Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin and two other delegates to write up what a "Declaration of Independence" might look like, which Jefferson essentially wrote in one sitting.

After the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress, a revolutionary cabal in formation since September 5, 1774, immediately set about the struggle to form a national government among states that did not get along, delegates that did not like each other, and regions of the colonies that had diametrically opposed interests.

Congress proposed the Articles of Confederation (a firm league of friendship between sovereign states) on June 11, 1776. It managed to adopt them on November 15, 1777. Most of the states signed the articles right away, except Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. New Jersey signed in 1778 and Delaware signed in 1779. Maryland continued to hold out until Virginia and New York ceded their western lands. Maryland did not sign until March 1, 1781, and then, only after Virginia had proposed to leave Maryland out of the confederation.

The American colonists should have, by all measurable accounts, never have won the American Revolution. The war was not supported by a majority of the colonists. Graft, corruption, desertions and traitors were rampant. European historical accounts reflect that the English essentially gave up fighting because the public and government were financially exhausted and public sentiment did not support the war, much less Englishmen being killed by a bunch of ungrateful "rebels and terrorists" in a far distant land.

Between 1775 and 1783, England's national debt had almost doubled fighting the war. After 100 years of what was practically a world at war, Europe's finances were collapsing. Spain and France had joined the war against England; and France was pouring thousands of troops and the power of its navy into the American theatre. Lord Charles Cornwallis was left high and dry on the Yorktown peninsula, mercifully surrendering on October 19, 1781.

There is no such thing as a pleasant war, but my study of the history of the American Revolution has left me with the impression that the American Revolution was truly a horrific experience. If it could be possibly true, there are accounts that more civilians died than soldiers and more soldiers died of misery, depravation, disease and hunger, than by combat. Untold and unimaginable atrocities were committed by the Hessian and English troops on American prisoners of war and on the general American population.

After the war, the American colonies were essentially bankrupt and devastated. Immediately the only thing that kept the Continental Army from revolting in a military coup was the influence of George Washington. If it were not for John Adams convincing Holland to loan us millions of dollars, we may have never made it. The United States was in debt to the tune of $42 million by 1783. Eight million dollars was owed to Holland, France and Spain. Congress had no power to levy taxes. It could only "ask" the states for money.

In the following four years, the states only gave the Continental Congress approximately $2.5 million a year, and America was about to fall in arrears on repaying its debt. After the war, fighting broke out among the states and between the states and the territories. States began to refuse to send delegates to the Congress and, for awhile, Congress could not even get a quorum in which to as much as ratify the peace with England.

In 1784, the French minister reported to the French government that America had no government, no president, no administration and appeared to have dissolved as a union.

It is indeed, only by divine intervention that we made it.

I hope that you spent the 4th of July with your families and enjoyed the fireworks. Better yet, I hope that you had an opportunity to re-acquaint yourself with how blessed we are as a nation.

Perhaps you reflected on the fact that yes, we have rights and freedoms, but with those rights come responsibilities as individuals - and as a nation. I hope that you said a prayer for our president and our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although we may enjoy the rights and freedoms to disagree with our president and the party in power in Washington, we have a responsibility to our men and women in uniform, to the world, to freedom and to democracy.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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