For one who was born and grew up in the small towns of the Midwest,
there is a
special kind of nostalgia about the Fourth of July.
I remember it as a day almost as long anticipated as Christmas. This
along by the appearance in store windows of all kinds of fireworks and colorful
posters advertising them with vivid pictures.
No later than the third of July - sometimes earlier - Dad would bring
he felt he could afford to see go up in smoke and flame. We'd count and recount
the number of firecrackers, display pieces and other things and go to bed
determined to be up with the sun so as to offer the first, thunderous notice of the
Fourth of July.
I'm afraid we didn't give too much thought to the meaning of the day.
there were tragic accidents to mar it, resulting from careless handling of the
fireworks. I'm sure we're better off today with fireworks largely handled by
professionals. Yet there was a thrill never to be forgotten in seeing a tin can
blown 30 feet in the air by a giant "cracker" - giant meaning it was about 4
But enough of nostalgia. Somewhere in our growing up we began to be
the meaning of days and with that awareness came the birth of patriotism. July
Fourth is the birthday of our nation. I believed as a boy, and believe even more
today, that it is the birthday of the greatest nation on earth.
There is a legend about the day of our nation's birth in the little
Philadelphia, a day on which debate had raged for hours. The men gathered there
were honorable men hard-pressed by a king who had flouted the very laws they were
willing to obey. Even so, to sign the Declaration of Independence was such an
irretrievable act that the walls resounded with the words "treason, the gallows,
the headsman's axe," and the issue remained in doubt.
The legend says that at that point a man rose and spoke. He is described
a young man, but one who had to summon all his energy for an impassioned plea.
He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment and finally, his
voice falling, he said, "They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole
into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic
in the workshop, they will speak hope; to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign
that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that
parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the Bible of the rights of man
He fell back exhausted. The 56 delegates, swept up by his eloquence,
forward and signed that document destined to be as immortal as a work of man can
be. When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be
found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out
through the locked and guarded doors.
Well, that is the legend. But we do know for certain that 56 men, a
so unique we have never seen their like since, had pledged their lives, their
fortunes and their sacred honor. Some gave their lives in the war that followed,
most gave their fortunes, and all preserved their sacred honor.
What manner of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists,
merchants and tradesmen, and nine were farmers. They were soft-spoken men of means
and education; they were not an unwashed rabble. They had achieved security but
valued freedom more. Their stories have not been told nearly enough.
John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. For
more than a
year he lived in the forest and in caves before he returned to find his wife
dead, his children vanished, his property destroyed. He died of exhaustion and a
Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships, sold his home to pay
and died in rags. And so it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett,
Rutledge, Morris, Livingston and Middleton.
Nelson personally urged Washington to fire on his home and destroy it
became the headquarters for General Cornwallis. Nelson died bankrupt.
But they sired a nation that grew from sea to shining sea. Five million
quiet villages, cities that never sleep, 3 million square miles of forest,
field, mountain and desert, 227 million people with a pedigree that includes the
bloodlines of all the world.
In recent years, however, I've come to think of that day as more than
birthday of a nation.
It also commemorates the only true philosophical revolution in all history.
Oh, there have been revolutions before and since ours. But those revolutions
simply exchanged one set of rules for another. Ours was a revolution that changed
the very concept of government.
Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land,
first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that
government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no
powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people.
We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.
Happy Fourth of July,
President of the United States