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The Tentacle


July 4, 2007

Happy Fourth of July

Kevin E. Dayhoff

As we spend time with friends and family to celebrate the Fourth of July today, take a moment to ponder just how fortunate we really are in our great nation.

Ask most folks - as they gather over hot dogs and burgers and look forward to watching fireworks later in the evening - about the Fourth of July and, more often than not, names like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin come quickly to mind.

But it is important that we take time to honor the courage and vision of all elected officials, men and women in uniform, teachers, firefighters and police officers on this the most American of holiday celebrations. They all overcome obstacles, on a personal, national, or global scale, to make our country great.

As events in the last several years leaves no doubt, the study of history is fraught with what can be explained in its best light, as romantic confusion. All too often the "human factor" is overlooked.

Claims and counter-claims as to "who did what and when" are constantly debated. In an age of political spin-doctors, blogs and rampant allegations about media bias, how are we to ever trust what is fact and what is fiction?

History is not the linear sequence of events or the rote regurgitation of meaningless dates; but rather a complex matrix of overlapping personalities and conflicts.

Today, as we celebrate the Fourth, there is no doubt that "These are the times that try men's souls." Oh, by the way, Thomas Paine wrote that on December 23, 1776, in a pamphlet entitled "The Crisis."

Now they had real problems. At the time, the American Revolution was going very badly. American patriot Paine wrote that pamphlet as he accompanied the American forces during yet another retreat from English military commander Charles Lord Cornwallis.

It was a time of economic chaos, and low morale. Congress and the army had just abandoned the capital in Philadelphia and there was a clamor to replace General George Washington because of his "lack of leadership and incompetence."

In another era, in a book about the president, David Elton Trueblood quotes a Baltimore Sun editorial: "We do not believe the presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him."

Another imminent humanitarian wrote that the president had, "Not a spark of genius has he; not an element of leadership...."

Were these disparaging words about President George W. Bush? No - President Abraham Lincoln at the height of the American Civil War as members of Congress wanted to withdraw northern troops from the south and seek a political settlement to a "war that cannot be won."

Somehow we have survived.

In the Lafayette College Art Collection in Easton, PA, there is a famous painting by William Walcutt. Painted in 1857, it depicts the "pulling Down the Statue of George III at Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan."

The painting is explained as a representation of the citizens of New York City pulling down the statue of King George III on July 9, 1776, after the news of the Continental Congress adoption of a Declaration of Independence had reached the city.

Although the document itself was not signed until August 8, 1776, copies of Declaration of Independence were widely distributed the day after July 4, 1776. Was the statue toppled on July 9? Historians seem to accept that it was.

But how about the Emanual Leutze's 1851 painting of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" on December 25, 1775, for a surprise attack on Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey? Well, General Washington did cross the Delaware on that occasion, but it has been long accepted that it did not happen as it is depicted in the painting.

However, the subject of whether or not King George III of England, who inherited the throne in 1760, was a tyrant, or just (over)reacting to geo-political and economic stressors, will be debated for eons to come. One thing many historians do agree on is that he was nuts - quite literally. It has been hypothecated that he suffered from a hereditary blood disorder, porphyria, which if untreated can cause mental illness.

King George III suffered a nervous breakdown in 1765 and by July of that year, the government of Prime Minister George Grenville quickly fell from power. The government of England continued in a turmoil from which it would take almost 20 years to recover.

One of the results of English government being in chaos was deterioration of the relationship between England and her colonies. The challenges were exacerbated by the fact that during the period from 1770 to 1773, legislative bodies in the individual colonies totally "went to pieces" as nothing could be agreed upon except to be disagreeable with one another.

By the time the First Continental Congress had adjourned in October 1774, they had overcome their dislike for one another barely enough to be brought together by their greater dislike of "Mother England."

Up until June 11, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress decided to form a committee to draft a resolution declaring independence, the colonialists had lost practically every military engagement with England. The colonies themselves were in varying stages of economic chaos and a majority of the population did not support the war or declaring independence.

Perhaps this may give some context to the historical events that swirled around the world of American patriots with names like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin as they deliberated the Declaration of Independence.

Columnist Mark Tapscott recently noted that "Winston Churchill once remarked that God takes care of drunks and the United States of America."

As the leadership of our current Congress, with an approval rating of 14 percent, spins a worse case scenario of current events in an effort to promote political expediency and election hopes, perhaps we may want to take a moment this Fourth of July and pray for God to continue to take care of us.

Happy Fourth of July.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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