Wednesday, July 04, 2018
For those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd, 1776, the odds did not look very good. Public opinion polls, if they existed, probably would have told them that only one-third of the population favored the course upon which they were about to embark. One-third was indifferent. One-third opposed independence. The men gathered from the thirteen colonies in Philadelphia, even without polling, probably had a sense that this was the case.
The army which would be the primary instrument of winning independence was scarcely disciplined, poorly uniformed, badly armed, and ill-supplied with food and ammunition. Pay was a promise (which, in fact, was mostly ignored 7 years later). Its generals had no experience commanding larger bodies of troops than a battalion.
True, there had been some victories. Boston had been rendered untenable for the enemy, and he had evacuated it. Fort Ticonderoga had fallen to a surprise attack, and supplied the heavy artillery that had led the British to evacuate Boston. Montreal had been captured, though that invasion force had been stopped at Quebec, and even now was building an anti-invasion fleet on Lake Champlain. The delegates in Philadelphia probably did not know it, but an enemy invasion of Charleston, SC had been averted a few days before.
But there had also been defeats. Despite inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, Bunker Hill had been captured. The attempt to capture Canada had failed miserably.
Most significant was what was coming. As the delegates debated independence, they knew that the British army that had left Boston was en route from Halifax, probably heading for New York. If their spies were accurate, that army would rendezvous with another escorted by an even larger fleet. Large numbers of British and German troops had driven the American Northern Army from Canada, and were poised to drive down Lake Champlain. These troops who would confront their own tattered, inexperienced army were the best Europe could field. British troops who had conquered an empire just 15 years before would be joined by excellent troops from Brunswick and Hesse Cassel, Frederick the Great's best allies. The enemy was supported by professional artillerists, and by a navy that was (despite peacetime decline and corruption) still, ship-for-ship, the best in the world. Thousands of their fellow countrymen would be happy to take up arms alongside the British army. To make matters worse, the Indian nations were ready to take up arms on behalf of the King, raising the prospect of burned farms, scalped settlers, and women and children abducted into captivity among the savages.
The men in Philadelphia must have found the prospect of declaring independence a daunting task. In the next three months, the most likely outcome was that the British army would take New York, flatten their own army, and then march on Philadelphia to hang them for treason. Their property would be taken from their families. At best they would become fugitives constantly on the run from British authorities.
But the best of them had a vision for the future, and strong reasons to feel the need to break with the past. The vision was that they would govern themselves, as they actually had for the most part, until the Imperial government decided to tap America for revenue to pay for keeping the peace with the Indians. John Winthrop's vision of a city set upon a hill remained a strong one, and merged with Locke's ideas about government, and newer ideas coming from Adam Smith about how an economy ought to be allowed to develop. A unified vision of a new nation which would serve as a beacon of liberty for all nations emerged, and was in the forefront of the minds of the men in Philadelphia. They had in this synthesis of ideas and in adapting to conditions on the American frontier, become a new nationality in need of a new nation.
And yet, despite all the obstacles, it was the vision that prevailed, and not the balance of forces. It is that vision that we celebrate today. John Adams, who did more than anyone to push the cause of independence through Congress, wrote to his wife that July 2, 1776 (the day the Declaration was approved):
"...Will be the most memorable epocha 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 Deliverence by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."
May it always be so.
Nothing could be more American than watching fireworks on July 4th. Yet, for many in remote areas, this is not practical. Your town may not be putting on a display this year because of budget constraints. Or you might not be able to get to the nearest fireworks display. This year, many communities are cancelling fireworks due to nervousness over drought conditions, as well.
It is a tradition here at Recta Ratio to link to virtual fireworks displays you can enjoy in the comfort of your own study. So turn off the lights, crank up the volume on your speakers, plug some John Phillips Sousa, some Handel Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and some Williamsburg Corps of Fifes and Drums into the CD player, pour yourself some wine, and put some more mustard on that hot dog!
I always link to Hogpainter's fireworks display. For the record, I recently figured out that this is a guy who paints motorcycles. So "hogs" are motorcycles. Live and learn.
And try this one.
But you activate it by left-clicking the mouse within the field.
I like this one, too.
This one allows you to watch fireworks over the White House and over New York City, or at a carnival or baseball game.
This one over New York Harbor reminds me of the one 30 years ago (can it be that long?) when the Statue of Liberty was newly rehabbed and President Reagan came for the show and watched from the deck of USS Iowa. We surely need another Reagan now to set the country going again.
Happy Independence Day!