Zoë: Why do we celebrate the 4th of July?
Me: Why do you think?
Me: No. Not Marco. ‘Merica. Say ‘Merica
Me: That’s how the rednecks say it.
Zoe: Who are the rednecks?
Me: Never mind.
Me: So what happened on July 4th, 1776?
Zoe: The war?
Me: What war?
Zoe: The Pilgrims?
Zoe: Is it God’s… no, it can’t be God’s birthday. That’s Christmas. Freedom?
Me: Freedom from who?
Zoe: Are you sure it’s not about the Pilgrims?
Me: Yes. Freedom from who?
Me: Good job. So, they signed a paper on July 4, 1776
Zoe: The Declaration of Independence!
Me: Right! So there was a war. We declared independence from England, they didn’t like that. There was a war. Which war?
Zoe: The first one? Second one? Fourth one?
Zoe: The Revenolutionary War?
Me: Yes! Sort of. Revolutionary war. (High five)
Zoe: And you’re sure it wasn’t about the Pilgrims?
Me: Parker, do you know why we celebrate the 4th of July?
Me: Well, not really. What else?
Parker: I don’t know.
Me: What colors do you see on the 4th?
Parker: Red. and Blue. Oh and white.
Me: What are those colors like?
Parker: The flag.
Me: So when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, what do you say?
Parker: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Emerica.”
Me: Emerica. You have no idea how true that is. Do you know who the first president was?
Parker: I can’t remember.
Me: Do you know any presidents?
Parker: Well, George Washington. And Obama. And Garfield. Nathan! Did you know there was a president named Garfield?!? Like the cat! (dissolves into giggles)
Me: So do you know about the war?
Parker: I wasn’t in the war.
Me: Nathan, what do you know about the 4th of July?
Nathan turns and walks silently out the door to the back yard and lies on the hammock.
It’s always a little sobering to realize what your kids DON’T know. But then I think about my own experience with history, and it has been shocking finding out how much I don’t know, how much what I thought I knew was either the tip of the iceberg, or completely wrong.
Did you know that George Washington probably never chopped down a cherry tree? And he certainly wasn’t incapable of lying. He was a man, not a messiah. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t really even the first president of our country.
“Washington was the first president elected under our Constitution, taking office in 1789. But the United States came together as a nation years before the Constitution was enacted. In 1781, when the last of the thirteen colonies ratified the Articles of Confederation, the new country was officially brought into being.
Shortly thereafter, Congress unanimously elected JOHN HANSON of Maryland as the first president of the United States. His full title was actually, ‘president of the United States in Congress assembled.’ Congress voted to provide the new president with a house and servants, and ruled that he ‘takes precedence of all and every person in the United States.’
Hanson served only a year and is now largely forgotten, but at the time, a colleague wrote: ‘I congratulate your Excellency on your appointment to fill the most important seat in the United States.’
That letter was signed by none other than George Washington.” (“The Greatest Stories Never Told,” By Rick Beyer)
(There is a strong contingent who believe that John Hanson was not only our first president, but was also our first BLACK president. I haven’t seen convincing evidence that John Hanson of Maryland was also John Hanson the Moor. But it makes the conversation interesting, that’s for sure. )
The declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4, 1776. It was agreed upon that day. It wasn’t signed for a month.
The Boston Tea Party wasn’t a protest against a tax hike, it was actually a lowering of taxes. Once British tea became more affordable, it would ruin the black-market these “patriots” were making a killing on. (Cuban embargo, anyone?) So they dressed up like Native Americans in hopes of making them take the fall, and dumped the tea in the harbor. I gotta say, the story isn’t quite as inspiring as I was taught as a kid, once you know the truth about it.
Just like every other significant relationship, I love this country, but I don’t always like it. I like the ideals it was founded upon- “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness,” “All men are created equal,” Endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” The reality is that at the time of the signing of this historic document espousing liberty and unalienable rights, 1/5th of the population was enslaved. That’s a hard patriotic pill for me to swallow.
One third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence actually OWNED slaves themselves. Many of our revered founding fathers spoke freedom out of one side of their mouths while defending slavery out of the other side. Thomas Jefferson, great orator and author of such gems as “The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.” and “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”- 150 slaves. George Washington, father of our country- 316 slaves at the time of his death. Even Ben Franklin had 7 human beings in bondage prior to becoming an abolitionist.
I’m not saying that what they did in their pursuit of freedom from England wasn’t brave. I’m not saying that they didn’t have a lot to lose, their lives included. But I view all of the things they said and did through the lens of one who feels that you can’t only be for freedom of some, while enslaving others. How could they say those words and not hear the hypocrisy in them?
Today when I celebrate, I think of all of the people over the past 200 plus years who fought, bled and even died for the cause of liberty. I think the best way to honor them is to know the whole truth about this country’s history. Not the legends, the white-washed version, the cutesy, rhyme-y version, but the truth. We the people owe it to those who came before us. We owe it to the 19 year old boys who stormed the beaches, to the brave revolutionaries who knew that signing their name was an act of treason, to the enslaved men and women upon whose backs this country was built, to the immigrants who saw this place a beacon, and came here in hopes of making a better life for themselves, their families.
I believe our current greatest failing as a nation is that we no longer feel the need to contribute. We have loud opinions about how things should be, but no action backing it up. We care more about our “rights” as they affect us personally, and less about the people surrounding us who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters. We care more about political affiliation and we spew hate towards those who would check a different box on election day. We look for problems, rarely solutions. We are a nation divided, a people divided. Yes, we are in a time where liberties have been infringed upon. But my guess is that if our founding fathers are rolling over in their graves, it’s more likely because of our apathy about our history, and our antipathy towards each other.
We are the UNITED freaking States of America. We are not each other’s enemies.
As my second favorite president once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”