By Bruce Stambaugh
Watching starbursts of fireworks from five miles above the earth was an unexpected treat.
My family and I were flying back from vacation late on July 3, 1988. Our hour-long flight path took us along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Shortly after we were airborne, the sky began to pop with burst after colorful burst of fireworks.
All along the route towns large and small expressed their jubilation for America’s Independence Day holiday with pyrotechnic displays. From high above I imagined the various sparkling bursts reflecting the broad diversity of folks that comprise this great country. Necks craned skyward, people from many cultures, races and religions in urban parks, county fairgrounds or on their own back porches had to also be admiring their local kaleidoscope of explosions.
As the last sparks flickered, I had to wonder then, as I wonder now, if the real meaning behind the celebratory fireworks is fully understood. As they picked up their chairs and folded their blankets to return home, what were they thinking? Was it just another fireworks display or did they truly comprehend the meaning of the day?
Those are questions that needed to be asked then just as they need to be asked today. Remembering our historic roots helps us to focus on where we are now and where it is we need to be going tomorrow.
As we celebrate another Independence Day in the United States, here are a few historical facts that cannot be changed, though some have tried to distort the truth. The Continental Congress actually declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The revolutionary document, penned by Thomas Jefferson, was signed July 4, 1776, making the radical pronouncement official.
At great risk to their fame, fortune and reputations, these bold men, and they were all men, set down the groundwork of a new nation. That foundation was based on one essential notion, freedom.
A few years later that central idea wove its way into the heart of the U.S. Constitution in the form of the first 10 amendments commonly called the Bill of Rights. They itemized specific freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to gather, among others.
The people of the American colonies wanted to shake the hold of Great Britain’s rule and run their own lives. This great document announced a new form of government for all peoples. Without it, anarchy would have ruled.
Since its initial adoption the Constitution of the United States has been amended to appropriately represent rights and freedoms for all of the country’s peoples, regardless of gender, race or creed as the population and society’s mores have evolved. To be sure, that evolution has had its civil rough spots to say the least.
From our present perspective, it can be easy to think that some things always were. “In God We Trust,” for example, was added to our coins and currency in 1864 at the end of the Civil War. The phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954 during the McCarthy communism scare era.
The altitude at which we enjoy the July 4th fireworks isn’t terribly important. The attitude of appreciation and a clear understanding and application of how and why our basic freedoms exist, however, are essential for appropriate social discourse.
As the fireworks explode in honor of this July 4th, what will you revere about Independence Day?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2012