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The Tentacle


July 5, 2006

4th of July

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Yesterday was the 4th of July and hopefully you had an opportunity to spend the day with your family and loved ones and took time to reflect upon our nation's birthday and the freedoms and opportunities that we have come to understand as inalienable rights.

When you look at our government today, it seems that one of the inalienable rights we inherited from the beginnings of our great nation was the right to bicker and argue over politics. What makes us stand out is that we always seem to figure it out, and move forward.

If you think that politics are "interesting" today, the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, on July 4th, 1776, by the Second Continental Congress, has certainly been romanticized and sanitized over the years.

In some respects, it has quite literally been sanitized, as at the time the Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia, outbreaks of pestilence and disease were a constant threat to the representatives meeting in the heat and close proximity to swamps and lowlands of the Delaware River. Of particular annoyance was the constant presence of huge biting black flies.

The political tension and personality conflicts were only overshadowed by the regional squabbling over issues of money and trade, and of course, how to deal with the most powerful nation on the planet at the time, mother England.

Previously, when the 55 representatives from 12 colonies (Georgia was a no-show) met as the First Continental Congress, from September 5, 1774, until October 26, 1774, the purpose was not to declare independence, but to negotiate a series of unpopular pieces of revenue and tax legislation adopted by British Parliament.

The trouble had begun in 1760 when King George III came to the throne. He was truly nuts, as in several French fries short of a happy meal. It has been hypothecated that he suffered from a hereditary blood disorder - porphyria - which if untreated can cause mental illness.

To make matters worse, in 1763, George Grenville had become prime minister of England. His elevation was, to a great extent, a result of political spin, misinformation and style over substance. A man who had fallen in love with himself at first sight, he had manufactured a reputation as a financial expert.

In a moment of perfect timing, such a person, although devoid of people skills, was perceived to be needed by England to divine a strategy to pay for the disastrously expensive French and Indian War, fought on behalf of a "bunch of ungrateful colonists" from 1754 to 1763. Great Britain's national debt had doubled during that war.

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775, the threat of open conflict with the colonies was not supported by approximately 40 percent of the English population.

By August 23, 1775, King George III had issued a proclamation of the existence of open rebellion and, according to my 1888 copy of Encyclopedia Britannica, "called on all good subjects to give any information of those persons. who were aiding and abetting the rebellion."

Setting an example that the contemporary New York Times, "all the national secrets that are fit to print," has followed today, some newspapers in the colonies did just that, including but not limited to, reporting troop movements and war plans of the fledgling colonial army. Only 40 percent of the colonialists supported the war for independence.

Perhaps this may give some context to the historical era inherited by the Second Continental Congress as it convened in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.

The delegates met from May 10, 1775, to March 1, 1781. Shortly after it convened, Congress created the "Continental Army" on June 14, 1775, and appointed George Washington as the "commander in chief" two days later, upon nomination of Maryland's Thomas Johnson.

A year later, by June 1776, the colonists in New England had been fighting the war, essentially by themselves and there was consideration that perhaps Congress might give them a hand, after a speech or two, of course.

True to a model followed to this day, Congress decided to form a committee on June 11, 1776, to draft a proclamation stating that the colonies desired to completely sever ties with England.

Although, the hard work of what would become known as the Declaration of Independence was essentially drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the rest of the committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston idly meddled. Eighty-six revisions were made to Mr. Jefferson's initial draft.

Mr. Jefferson had just arrived in Philadelphia. He had come late in the fall of 1775 and quickly left before Christmas. He had put off returning to Congress until May 14, 1776, and only then he returned begrudgingly.

He was 33 years old, the youngest representative and heretofore had only paid cursory attention to the deliberations and was relatively unknown by the other members of Congress. He wanted John Adams to write the declaration and - in yet another "what if" moment in history - if he had arrived any later than he did, someone else would have written it.

The enabling ordinance of independence was not passed until July 2, 1776. The Declaration of Independence was approved several minutes after 11 P.M. on July 4. Both the enabling ordinance and the declaration were voted upon in secret. And the document itself was not signed until August 8.

Two centuries later, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Politics is just as nuts but our country, warts and all - in spite of, or perhaps because of, our disagreements - stands as a beckon of hope, freedom and opportunity for the rest of the world.

Then - as now - American men and women in uniform unflinchingly serve our country and make sacrifices, while newspapers and politicians quibble, pontificate, misrepresent and equivocate from the comfort of home.

Hopefully we can all agree to thank these selfless heroes in uniform, whether they serve in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in more than 120 countries throughout the world.

Happy Fourth of July. May God Bless America.

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



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