Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July Thoughts

The Continental Congress actually voted to declare independence on July 2, 1776, leading John Adams to write to his wife:

"The 2nd day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch 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, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."

However, it wasn't until two days later that the Continental Congress formally adopted the  Declaration of Independence (and only after some editing that severely wounded the young author's ego).  Then someone rang the bell of the State House of the Province of Pennsylvania (that's the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall to you). You know the rest.

The members of the Continental Congress didn't even sign the Declaration until August 2, 1776.

Too busy, I guess.

One of the more interesting aspects of the events of 1776 is their effects on other countries. Years later,  the United States' example inspired Spain's American possessions to revolt.  And two Canadian revolts against British rule in 1837 led to Canada gaining a degree of self-government. The revolts had been successfully defeated by British forces, but instead of cracking down on the colonists as George III would have done, the British government—remembering how well the George III approach worked—sent a member of parliament named John Lambton (nickname: "Radical Jack") on a fact-finding mission to Canada. He found a politically viable way to release the captured leaders of the revolt instead of hanging them, and in his Report on the Affairs of British North America, Lambton recommended that the Canadian provinces be given some degree of control over their own affairs. Parliament approved his recommendations. By 1848 Canada was more or less self-governing, and in 1867 had all but full independence (London still had final say on Canadian foreign policy; that didn't change until 1930).


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In spite of having been but a small horrible child at the time, I well remember the bicentennial celebrations of 1976. One of the more curious observations was the series called Bicentennial Minutes. Every day throughout the year, CBS ran a painfully earnest one-minute spot featuring a B-list celebrity (think Mark Shera or Valerie Harper) standing in a book-lined study recounting what happened on that day in 1776. Unfortunately for CBS employees, not every day  in 1776 was a day of principled stands and heroic deeds. The researchers for that series had to really dig to find enough material. I remember one somewhat vividly (I'm pretty sure I don't have the names right, however):

"This is Vic Tayback. On this day in 1776, Thomas Putnam set out from Philadelphia with a company of rangers to fight British forces in upstate New York. They soon got lost in the Allegheny Forest when they were abandoned by their  Indian guides. They marched on through the forest, hoping against hope to reach American settlements. They ran out of provisions. They ate their horses and dogs. Their bones were found in the spring. I'm Vic Tayback, and this has been a Bicentennial Minute."

Searching on YouTube I discovered a nice send-up of Bicentennial Minutes from the Carol Burnett Show, and here's an actual Bicentennial Minute that recounts the valiant last stand of a patriotic tree:




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