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Independence Day, 241 years ago

By Jim Zeigler,Alabama State Auditor, and Pat Boone, Entertainer

Many of us Alabamians are enjoying a long Independence Day holiday. For State employees and others who are off work Monday, it is a four-day weekend.

My family, like many of yours, will enjoy barbecue, the lake (or beach), fireworks, and the gathering of family and friends.

241 years ago at the first Independence Day (though it was not called that), it was a different scene altogether.

It was in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew that their signatures on that document might also be — literally — their own death sentences.

They knew that soon the British army would be sailing across the Atlantic to occupy the mostly defenseless colonies. They knew the colonies did not yet have the soldiers or arms or training to stand against the British and send them packing back to England. Yet they put their signatures, and their lives, their families, and their destinies, on the Declaration of Independence.

Against all odds, and even against reason, that Declaration told the world that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”

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Most of the people living in the colonies had just about enough of British domination, of working and virtually existing at the pleasure of a king they didn’t know and who obviously considered them less than English citizens.

They wanted to be free, to make their own decisions, to govern themselves and breathe the air of liberty.
The first celebration of American Independence took place four days later in Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was still meeting.

The ceremony began with a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Then, from the tower of the State House, now called Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell rang out.

The coat of arms of the king of England was taken down. And there was a parade. And cannons boomed. The people, though aware of what lay ahead, cheered! A new nation sprang to life. That’s what this day is meant to be about.

John Adams, himself a signer of the Declaration, thought that Americans should henceforth celebrate a “great anniversary festival.” In a letter to his wife Abigail he wrote, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

So it began. A more elaborate celebration was held there in 1788, after the new Constitution had been ratified. Then there was a much larger parade, speeches and a dinner.

But between those two celebrations, in 1776 and 1788, there was much horrible fighting, rivers of bloodshed, the deaths and bankruptcies of many of the signers of the Declaration, families torn apart and businesses and farms destroyed. The freedoms declared by the Declaration — and ushered into fact by the Constitution — were secured at a terrible cost.

Soon, across the growing nation, at sunrise on July 4, salutes were fired and bells were rung. Flags were flown from buildings, from homes, and along the streets. Shop windows were decorated with red, white, and blue. Churches held special services.

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What’s Independence Day like today? Do most people you know actually make time to purposely celebrate our independence in meaningful ways? Even while we’re facing threats from radical Islamic terrorists, North Korea and others.

What are we fighting for now? Is it anything like what motivated our Revolutionary Army?

Is it still the impossible dream of one nation under God, with unalienable rights endowed equally to all — among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Surely this weekend is a time for all of us who still cherish that original dream, the one for which so many have died, to individually and collectively re-declare our independence from tyranny, despotism, taxation without representation, and debts that no free society should ever bear.

And allegiance to the blood-bought foundation of government of, by, and for the people . . . people who are determined to live free.

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