What does the Fourth of July mean to the 21st century American? It’s a day off from work, a time to get together with friends and family, a time to head to the river or lake or coast, a time to fire up the barbecue, or a time to watch some fireworks.
Lost is the notion to reflect on independence; indeed, few even call it “Independence Day” anymore. But have you ever been to the cradle of the American Revolution? Such a visit will give a newfound respect for the liberty we enjoy, and such a respect will ensure such freedoms are not lost.
Scaffolding covered Independence Hall when I visited Philadelphia in the 1990s. I guess independence requires some maintenance now and then.
The home of Betsy Ross still stands. Interior walls are thicker at the bottom, the result of years of repeated plastering. The structure, like America itself, must have a broad support at its base in order to stand. Betsy is remembered for creating the United States flag, she was just one of many who lent their talents to forge a nation.
I have long wondered if there was a proliferation of geniuses in the British colonies in the late 1700s, or did historians create a larger-than-life myth of the protagonists?
George Washington was a military leader, first and foremost. His experience in the French and Indian War prepared him to fight in the ways of his adversaries against the tactics of his commanders — and he learned well.
Thomas Jefferson was a Renaissance man. He was a philosopher and a student of civilization. He borrowed from the ideals of the ancients and crafted a declaration of independence. In so doing, he created a model that has inspired the quest for liberty for dozens of other countries.
Ben Franklin worked the masses from the narrow streets of Old Towne to the grand boulevards of Paris. His writing inspired revolution at home and his diplomacy gained support from abroad. Like Jefferson, he was an avid learner and inventor.
I touched the wound in the Liberty Bell which once hung from the tower at Independence Hall. I rapped it with my knuckles to hear the echo of jubilation at our country’s founding. I wondered if Davy Crockett actually did (as the song says) “patch up the crack in the Liberty Bell.” Maybe Phil Collins has done some research when Crockett was a congressman. Perhaps Ole Davy did visit Philly as it was a seat of government in his day.
Boston has it’s share of monuments to the Revolution as well. Indeed, it’s Freedom Trail touches landmarks every citizen should know. Hundreds huddled in Faneuil Hall to hear orators urge action to revolt. The harbor turned amber with the riot of the original Tea Party. The streets ran red with blood as the British fired on unarmed civilians. The battle at Bunker Hill was lost but it inspired other battles — much like our own Alamo — which ultimately won the war.
Other places up East bring home the power and glory of our struggle to gain and retain independence. Visit Concord, Mass., and learn about “the shot heard round the world.” Across the street from Wall Street in New York is Federal Hall where Washington was inaugurated. Baltimore is celebrating its bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner which flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. You can see the original banner in the Smithsonian Museum when you visit Washington, D.C., another icon in American history.
The greatness of these people, places, and objects may never be matched but their images and memory provide an idea worth emulating. Think on these things as you watch “the rockets red glare” of the local fireworks. And have a joyous Independence Day.
*Featured/top image: “The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America; July 4th 1776,” by Asher Brown Durand. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery.