Why All the Fireworks? A Quick Lesson on the 4th of July

“Civil tyranny is usually small in its beginning, like ‘the drop of a bucket,’ till at length, like a might torrent, or the raging waves of the sea, it bears down all before it, and deluges whole countries and empires . . .” (Jonathan Mayhew, 1749)

4thofJulyI was thinking about what to post related to our national Independence Day holiday, when I came across a video in which an interviewer asked people why we celebrate the Fourth of July. As a person who taught many American Revolution classes for 3rd – 7th graders, the video made me not only very sad, but even somewhat disgusted and ashamed of the ignorance that many of my fellow Americans apparently have regarding this historical event and holiday.

Before watching the video below, take a quick assessment of your own knowledge of Independence Day by seeing if you can answer these questions correctly:

1. In what year was the Declaration of Independence signed?
2. Which of the following was NOT a signer of the Declaration:
+++ a) Benjamin Franklin
+++ b) Thomas Jefferson
+++ c) Abraham Lincoln
+++ d) John Adams
3. The American Revolution was fought to gain independence from what country?
4. What was the name of the King against which the American Colonists rebelled?
+++ a) Edward
+++ b) George
+++ c) Henry
+++ d) Philip
5. How many of these men can you identify?

Okay, are you ready for this? Watch as media analyst Mark Dice easily stumps average American people without them even realizing it!

So how did you do? Would you have been able to give Mark some correct answers? Now I admit I’m a bit out of touch with what is being taught in schools these days, since my kids are all in their twenties and I homeschooled them. So I don’t mean to offend anyone who might be a school history teacher, but I have to ask: Don’t they teach about the American Revolution in history classes any more?

Here’s a quick review of what led up to and contributed to the causes for the American’s revolt against British rule:

Beginning as early as 1660, England imposed strong restrictions on the colonies in order to control their trade. The Navigation Acts of 1660-1699 stated that the colonies could not import or export goods from other countries or between colonies. These products included: tobacco, cotton, sugar, animal furs, & wood products. These laws forced the colonies to trade only with England, and to buy products from England rather than manufacture their own. Additionally, the colonies were only supposed to transport their products, to and from England, on English ships. This way, the colonies could not make money for themselves, only for England. In order to enforce these laws, British officers could search all shipments entering and leaving ports and would confiscate goods that violated these acts. Some required customs to be paid on imported goods. The Acts of Tyranny, as they came to be called, continued throughout the 1760’s, controlling more and more of the American colonists’ economy and autonomy as a people. In 1769, King George III declared that petitions to the King, local elections, and town meetings or conventions were an insult to His Majesty, subversive to his authority and punishable.

In December of 1773, in reaction to the king’s taxation, men in Boston known as “The Sons of Liberty” organized a non-violent demonstration which later became known as the Boston Tea Party. To punish the colonists, the King passed what were called the Intolerable (or Coercive) Acts, including closing the port of Boston. In response the ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston refused to unload incoming shipments from England. The colonies united in their efforts to send aid to Boston, to resist England’s tyranny, to discontinue all trade with England, and to manufacture more products within the colonies.

In spite of all this, the Colonists really did not want a war. In fact throughout the period of the Revolution, only about one-third of the Colonists were in favor of breaking from England, while one-third remained in favor of staying under English rule, and one-third tried to remain neutral. In July of 1775, the American Congress sent a letter of reconciliation to King George called the Olive Branch Petition, in which they pledged their loyalty to him and their desire for peace. However, he rejected it and labeled them as rebels. This is what motivated them to form a committee to write the Declaration of Independence.

What does the Declaration of Independence say? Well, before giving you the Cliff’s Notes summary, if you’ve never read it, might I suggest you take a few minutes to do so? The Declaration of Independence is a document I feel every American, Christian or not, should read, and it’s really pretty short. To sum up:

Key Principles:

1.  All men are created equal by God.
2.  All men have the inalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
3.  The purpose of government is to secure and protect these God-given rights.
4.  It is the right/duty of the people to alter or abolish the government if it is in any way destroying these stated rights.

Examples of King George of Britain’s tyrannical rule:

– His refusal to pass certain necessary beneficial or important laws.
– His control of the legislative representatives were unreasonable.
– He sent over “swarms of Officers to harass our People and eat out their substance.”
– He kept “standing Armies” among the people during time of peace.
– He provided protection of his military personnel from punishment of murder.
– He cut off the colonies’ trade with other countries.
– He imposed taxes without consent of the colonies.
– He deprived them of trial by jury of peers.
– He required them to go overseas to England to be tried.
– He removed their laws, replaced their leaders, and changed their form of government.
– He forced Americans that were taken captive to fight against their own side or be killed.
– He turned the local Indians against them.
– He hired foreign troops to join Britain in fighting against the colonies.
– “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, destroyed the lives of our people.”

The Colonists had made appeals, petitions, and peaceful demonstrations to the king, but without success. They were not being treated as equal English citizens and no longer felt English. They now had come to have an identity of their own as Americans.

So when you think our government is corrupt and our liberties are being threatened, reflect on what our forefathers were dealing with 250 years ago.

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, that the 4th of July would be “the most memorable 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 solemnized with pomp and parade… bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore.

And now I hope you have a better understanding of why we celebrate this day like we do! While you have fun with your family and friends, remember the principles this great nation was founded on, and keep our country in your prayers that we may retain the rights and liberties we so enjoy!

The Liberty Bell has become connected with the Declaration of Independence, but historians believe it is doubtful it was rung on this occasion due to the poor condition of the State House steeple at the time. Previously known simply as the State House bell, it was given its current name in the 1830’s by those promoting the abolition of slavery in America.

Recommended Reading:

To really get the full picture of our nation’s history starting back in England, I highly recommend reading Charles Coffin’s The Story of Liberty series. Coffin begins back in 1215 with the Magna Carta, the document on which some of our Constitution is based. I know history can be boring; it was my least favorite subject as a kid. But Coffin’s story-telling is engaging and thorough, and he connects the dots between people, nations, and events in a way I’ve never read by any other writer of history.

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