Thursday, July 04, 2013

In That Direction Lies Happiness

We must hang together gentlemen . . . else we shall most assuredly hang separately. ~Benjamin Franklin

Happy Independence Day. And “happy” is the appropriate greeting for today. The Declaration of Independence was the first historical instance of the word "happiness" appearing in the founding documents of any nation.

Today in 1776, 56 men signed their names to this radical document. As a result they were, without trial, proclaimed traitors by the government and sentenced to death. These were middle class people. John Hancock was the wealthiest among them and he was not even a millionaire by today's standards. The wealthy sided with the king. Most of the signers were working people -- farmers and tradesmen primarily. None of them left behind a family fortune, or a foundation, or any other kind of financial memorial of their lives. Our nation is their legacy.

Their average age was 33 (Thomas Jefferson's age at the time). The youngest was only 20-years-old. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, all 56 of the signers were forced to flee their homes. Twelve returned to find only rubble.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, 17 of them were wiped out financially by the British government.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, many of them were captured and tortured, or their families were imprisoned, or their children were taken from them. Nine of them died and 4 of them lost their children.

As I read the Declaration of Independence, as I do each July 4, I find myself in awe of their courage. They were all aware of the likely consequences, but they did what they knew must be done. Two-hundred and thirty-seven years later, I still feel the outrage they must have felt as I read through the specific governmental abuses that lead them to that critical moment.

Even more than our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence is the beginning point for the United States of America. I find it both educational and inspirational to return to the source before heading out for fireworks.

When Franklin was asked what kind of nation they were forming, he answered, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

I worry at times that we won't be able to keep it, that, in fact, we've already lost it. I worry that too many of us have declared our independence not from tyrants, but from one another, not understanding that in creating a constitutional government of, by, and for we the people, we were also declaring our interdependence.

At the signing to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Franklin famously said, "We must hang together gentlemen . . . else we shall most assuredly hang separately." 

And while we come together today to commemorate our independence from tyranny, this is also a day for embracing our fellow countrymen, for celebrating our interdependence. In that direction lies happiness.

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zakłady bukmacherskie said...

Nice pictures :)

Chrissy said...

Beautifully written. I had forgotten some of the points you shared; will read this to my family today.

A friend once said, "every time we gain a 'right' we lose a privilege." When I consider the differences between a democracy and a republic, I remember her words.

Happy 4th!

Graham said...

Benjamin Franklin was only about 70. He died at age 83 in 1790.

quiltmom anna said...

Hi Tom,
I want to say how much I enjoy your blog. As a kindergarten teacher from Alberta, I am always interested in what is happening in pre- k. My kids come to school at age 4 here in Edmonton. They do not have to be 5 until March of the following year so my k's are quite young. My students attend a full day program 5 days a week.
I found your piece on the Declaration of Independence very interesting. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences.
Regards from Alberta,

Teacher Tom said...

Thanks Graham . . . fixed!

john stoffel said...

Eloquently stated, Teacher Tom. I believe the words of Esther Forbes in her novel, Johnny Tremain, would compliment yours.

"For what will we fight?"

"To free Boston from these infernal redcoats and…"

"No," said Otis. "That's not enough reason for going into a war. Did any occupied city ever have better treatment than we've had from the British? Has one rebellious newspaper been stopped—one treasonable speech? Where are the firing squads, the jails jammed with political prisoners? What about the gallows for you, Sam Adams, and you John Hancock? It has never been set up... We are not going off into civil war merely to get them out of Boston. Why are we going to fight? Why, why?"

There was an embarrassed silence. Sam Adams was the acknowledged ringleader. It was for him to speak now. "We will fight for the rights of Americans. England cannot take our money away by taxes."

"No, no. For something more important than the pocketbooks of our American citizens."

Rab said, "For the rights of Englishmen—everywhere."

"Why stop with Englishmen?" Otis was warming up. He had a wide mouth, crooked and generous. He settled back in his chair and then he began to talk. It was such a talk as Johnny had never heard before. The words surged up through the big body, flowed out of the broad mouth. He never raised his voice, and he went on and on……..
"…For men and women and children all over the world," he said. "You were right, you tall, dark boy, for even as we shoot down the British soldiers we are fighting for rights such as they will be enjoying a hundred years from now…."
"We are lucky men," he murmured, "for we have a cause worth dying for. This honor is not given to every generation."
"It is all so much simpler than you think," he said. He lifted his hands and pushed against the rafters. "We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills…we fight, we die, for one simple thing. Only that a man can stand up."

---Esther Forbes, from Johnny Tremain

Teacher Tom said...

Thank you, John! I thought I was the only one who remembered "Johnny Tremain" . . .=)

john stoffel said...

Teacher Tom,

I've just returned from a ten day solo excursion to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. If not familiar with this pristine wilderness, where I traveled was completely "off the grid." I usually make this trip with friends, but this year went alone.

I thought the solo trip would give me unparalleled freedom, and in some aspects, it did. However, I discovered that much liberty was lost without the interdependence of friends. I'm an adventurist, willing to go off the beaten path, however, without companions, I was much more reserved knowing a small accident can end up being fatal where no one might notice me for days.

In fact, in many ways being alone was much more limiting than had I gone with friends. Thanks for your blog post. This new, abstract idea you introduced me to on July 4th was cemented in my understanding last week.