(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange is looking forward to celebrating the Fourth, and reflecting on the gift of our sacred independence.
(LANGE) I used to step out onto my porch at five o’clock in the morning every Fourth of July and fire a salute to the United States and all my neighbors with my shotgun. But over the years I found the noise it made to be pretty puny, and I had to clean the shotgun, besides. Now I use a "bear banger." It’s a metal tube with a pocket clip, like a fountain pen, into which you screw a tiny flare. We take them with us on canoe trips to the Canadian Arctic to persuade inquisitive bears to go away. When I release the firing pin, a small cartridge fires the main charge about fifty feet into the air, where it makes a terrific boom! We’ve never used it on a bear, but when I let fly from my back porch, dogs bark for at least half a mile, and I’m sure the police get phone calls. What a terrific way to usher in our sacred national day of independence!
And it is sacred. The 56 men of substance who signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Many of them lost at least one of those possessions in the ensuing war, but none the third. The ragtag army the Continental Congress cobbled together from conscripts and volunteers took on the army and navy of the most powerful empire in the world, and won! The war ended eight long years later, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The Declaration, before it goes into a long list of abuses perpetrated by King George III, contains some lofty language with which all of us are familiar – that all of us are created equal; that we’re endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But to me the most important idea in the opening paragraphs is an old one from the Magna Carta, which the colonials used to remind the king that their grievances were well-founded: that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and that when governments abuse that power, it’s not only the right, but the duty of the people to take it back and give it to somebody else. That was a revolutionary idea in 1215, and it was again in 1776.
So much has happened to us on July 4th – the deaths of three presidents, Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe; the birth of another, Calvin Coolidge; the fall of Vicksburg in the Civil War, reopening the Mississippi River. Fireworks are certainly in order. But some silent reverence, too.
An old story – probably apocryphal – goes that when John Hancock signed the Declaration in bold script, he remarked, "There! King George can read that without his spectacles!" When I step out onto the back porch tomorrow morning to give thanks for our sacred independence, I hope Ben Franklin, notoriously deaf, will hear it up in Heaven without his ear trumpet.
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.