It’s always amusing to find out some new info on something you’ve taken for granted. As the first example that came to mind, I used to think turtles were cute, easy to care for, and harmless. As someone who now takes care of a turtle I can say that only one of those things is true: they can be cute. The work that goes into making sure the thing doesn’t just die on me is insane, and I’ve been bitten way too many times to call her harmless. Next time one of my brothers asks me to keep his turtle alive I’ll say no.
In history this happens all the time. Someone has an idea of what happened based on what they read in a textbook, saw in a movie, etc., and they really don’t know anything about the truth of the matter. Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets. Angelica Schuyler was actually married when she met Hamilton, so despite how great the song “Satisfied” is, it’s wildly inaccurate. That’s how history works; the original Greek word for history meant inquiry, and it very much is, especially with events which weren’t well-documented. Some events manage to be misinterpreted despite a history teacher’s best efforts. When I was younger, I knew July the Fourth was Independence Day, but I had no idea what that meant. I thought maybe that was when we finally beat Britain at Yorktown, or maybe when Britain recognized the US as a country. That’s not the case, of course. The surrender at Yorktown took place October 19th, 1781, and the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the Revolutionary War, wasn’t until September 3rd two years later. Little Jacob was way off. My error was rectified some time in the fourth or fifth grade.
The Fourth of July is the day when the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by the United States. It’s easy to assume that this date was universally agreed upon because it marked the total breaking-off of our ties with Britain, but even this isn’t the case. That happened two days earlier, when Congress voted on the resolution; John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that the Second would be the day of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a post hoc explanation of why we did what we did, essentially. It wasn’t “We’re doing this” it was “We did this, George, so read this and weep.” It could have ended really badly. By all measures, it should have ended really badly: This is the equivalent of Puerto Rico deciding to flip the US now the bird and tell us to shove it, they’ll be their own thing, thank you very much. Can you imagine that working out well for them?
The Declaration of Independence’s second paragraph begins with the immortal words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and its last ends with “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 Honor.”
In this day it does not seem insane to say that everyone deserves the same opportunities, that Mankind should be judged by ability and not birth, and that a Monarchy is a tyrannical, unfair form of government. But those words mean exactly that, that a Prince has no more right to rule than anyone. The Founders began with the Natural Rights of Mankind and, following the logic to its core, realized that only a Republic can protect its citizens.
The difficulty of this is that the citizens have to get involved in a Republic. If we are given the benefits of citizenship, we should take part in the government, right? It’s a shame that, in the end, it is We the People who are at fault when our Government acts poorly. It reflects on all of us when we don’t keep our Representatives honest.
Benjamin Franklin reportedly said, when asked what form of government the Constitutional Convention had given the people,
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
Reflect on that today as you shoot off your firecrackers. Read the Declaration, if you want; I’ve done that the past couple years. Hug your family, eat some good food, and have an excellent Independence Day!