Monday Smiles – 7/4/2011

My son loves historical documentaries and a subscription to Netflix gives him ample opportunity to watch them.  He often regales us with tales of the flaws in everyman’s knowledge of American history, how what the schools taught is often mythology not fact.  I listen  but rarely have much to say which I know frustrates him.  I’m much more aware of the fallacies of popular American mythology than he thinks I am but history has never been my favorite subject.  Besides, at sixty-seven, I’m interested in the broad strokes of most subjects, not the details.  The broadest stroke of American history is that the U.S has been a uniquely positive influence in a world too often influenced by tyrants, whether they be monarchs, imams, or chancellors, regardless of the warts and little secrets my son finds in his documentaries.

So, it’s Independence Day, and if I spend some time searching for Fourth of July myths, I’ll find that the Continental Congress actually declared independence  from Great Britain on July 2 and that the gathering of the delegates in Philadelphia on July 4th to sign the Declaration never happened.  The document was signed with little fanfare on August 2 by most delegates, and some signed much later.  The Liberty Bell never rang in the singing of the Declaration and not only did Betsy Ross not sew the first flag, she may not have lived in The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia.  Though we don’t know who sewed the first flag we do know that it was designed by Frances Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration.   Many people think that  John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, which hangs in the Capitol Rotunda portrays the signing of the Declaration on July Fourth.  It doesn’t.   It portrays the presentation of the draft of the Declaration to Congress on June 28, 1776.  So, we’re celebrating on the wrong day and many of the tales we tell are myths.  One of our best loved pieces of national art doesn’t portray what we think it does.  But in the broad strokes, it doesn’t matter because the real art of Independence Day is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Simply stunning.  It’s Monday, July 4, Independence Day.  I’m smiling.




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9 Comments on “Monday Smiles – 7/4/2011”

  1. There are technically several days on which we COULD celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate on July 4 because that was the date on which the Continental Congress “adopted” the Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t full of signatories until August 2. As for the painting, it’s my understanding that Trumbull was always clear about what the painting showed; it’s just that we, by and large, have falsely interpreted it. Your post is a great lesson on why Americans need to know more about our own history. 🙂

  2. I don’t mean you… I mean in general!

  3. Cheryl P. Says:

    Hi Bud, Hope you are having a fun 4th. I have intended to ask how your trip to DC went. Hope it was successful. I leave for DC tomorrow.

    As for the historical flaws…I nearly laughed on a couple of thoughts that popped into my pea sized brain. There have been some notable arguments lately in the news on historical inaccuracies.

    I just started reading a book “Weird History 101” by john Richard Stephens. I have no idea if I will enjoy it as I am only a couple of pages in. I don’t think it is so much about inaccurate depictions as much as about obscure historical events as well as alternate viewpoints. Yep, I am a total nerd.

    I do love your posts ending. Couldn’t of summed it up better.

  4. Emily Says:

    I’m with you. Sometimes the details are pointless.

  5. I’ve actually heard a few of those things you said about the Independence Day celebrations and such but you know, your last part of that post there truly does say it all! What the heck does it matter if the forefathers signed it on June 28th or July 2nd or not all signed until August sometime? The fact remains that they signed it sometime during the summer of 1776 and it’s lasted quite well for over 200 years now too! Talk about durability! Now that is history!

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