Wednesday, July 05, 2006
My favorite Independence Day tradition...
And no, it doesn't involve beer or charcoal.
It is NPR's annual reading of the Declaration of Independence. It is usually in the 6 o'clock hour of Morning Edition, and I have listened as long as I can remember. (We have always been early riser, my dad and I)
Last year was the first year without Bob Edwards, and I admit to a certain sense of loss there. However, it really is all about the language. There was a line in the movie National Treasure that comes to mind. Something to the effect of how "people don't speak like that today" No matter how many times I hear the words, they move me. Language is power, and those who can command language can change the world. (Good thing POTUS has speechwriters, eh?)
Look at the Lee Resolution, proposed a month earlier, which was the reader's digest version, if you will:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
All political connection... totally dissolved. Wow.
WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's GOD entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.
...The goosebumps settle in.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
... I start to recite along. (Boy, I sure am glad Mrs. Batts made us learn this in fifth grade.)
But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
... here is where I start to get choked up.
WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.
...And this last paragraph, a little teary.
That last sentence is very grave indeed. These men were puttung everything on the line. Not for a nation, but for an idea. That is greatness. Commitment to an ideal, whatever the cost. Complete trust in your brothers, with no thought to the price. In that hot, muggy summer, did they have any clue as to just what they had put into motion? Could they image that 230 year later, their pen strokes (which incidentally didn't happen until 2 August) would serve as a reminder to a nation of a debt which we can never hope to repay?
If you ever see a copy, the very bottom signature in the third column is that of Carter Braxton. He kept his life and his honor, but lost his fortune to the war. My father shares his name, as we are lineal descendants. Perhaps that is why I get all weird and girly at the thought. Perhaps. But I like to think that we are all in awe of these men and their idea.