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Across The Fence: A Fourth of July Montage
July 03, 2014 M. Timothy Nolting   

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July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress, convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, adopted the Declaration of Independence proclaiming the independence of a new United States of America from Great Britain and its king. It had been nearly fifteen months since the first shots of the American Revolution had been fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. The Declaration was for the most part the work of Thomas Jefferson. In justifying the appeal for American independence, Jefferson drew much of his ideology from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights. The first section features these famous and often quoted lines, “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.”

After the adoption of the Declaration, the war for Independence would last another five bitter and bloody years. Those five years would see the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, General Washington’s troops suffering through the winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and at long last the victory at Yorktown in 1781. Finally, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed with Britain and the United States became a free and independent nation.

July 4, 1803 the United States announced to the American people the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase. This vast tract of land that cut a swath across the continent would become the impetus for westward expansion and the battleground on which American greed would demonstrate the belief that not ‘all’ men were created equal.

July 4, 1804 the Corps of Discovery, after six weeks of travel upriver, under the leadership of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark camped near a small creek on the banks of the Missouri River. The creek emptied into the Missouri from the west and was located on a lush plain. Clark wrote of the abundant game and wild fruit found there. Inquiring of his scouts if the creek had a name, they were told that none had been given and so, in honor of the day, Clark named it Independence Creek. To celebrate each man was issued an additional dram of whiskey and the expedition cannon was fired in salute. This was the first 4th of July celebration to be held west of the Mississippi River.

July 4, 1817 construction began on a 363-mile canal that provided a manmade watercourse allowing horse-drawn barges to transport goods from Albany to Buffalo, New York on Lake Erie. With no natural watercourse, the manmade canal, with 36 locks, became a major thoroughfare of commerce. These new Americans would set the stage for remarkable achievements in transportation across the continent. Progress was unleashed and would continue to run rampant.

July 4, 1826 be it fate or coincidence, former presidents Thomas Jefferson, aged 82 years and John Adams, aged 90 years, died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, had been central figures in the drafting of the historic document, The Declaration of Independence. Jefferson had authored it, and Adams, who was known as the “colossus of the debate,” served on the drafting committee and had argued most eloquently for its passage.

After the signing, Adams had traveled to France as a diplomat, where he was successful in gaining the support of the French for the cause. Jefferson returned to Virginia, and served as governor during the days of the Revolution. When the British were defeated at Yorktown in 1781, Adams served as one of those who negotiated the Treaty of Paris and ended the war. Although allies in the founding of the nation and the pursuit of independence, Jefferson and Adams became heated political enemies and for many years avoided personal contact with one another, though often engaged in public debate. After their retirement from public office the two men eventually renewed their friendship and frequently corresponded. Their many letters are regarded as valuable and important historical documents and cited as masterpieces of American enlightenment.

As he lay on his deathbed Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” He was not aware that a dispatch would soon arrive announcing the death of his old friend and political adversary. Jefferson had died but a few hours earlier but Adams never received the news.

July 4, 1827 slavery is abolished in New York State. The following day, Rev. Nathaniel Paul, an Albany minister announced the final abolition of slavery in that state. His profound and eloquent address began thus; “We look forward with pleasing anticipation to that period, when it shall no longer be said that in a land of freemen there are men in bondage, but when this foul stain will be entirely erased, and this, worst of evils, will be forever done way. The progress of emancipation, though slow, is nevertheless certain: It is certain, because that God who has made of one blood all nations of men, and who is said to be no respecter of persons, has so decreed; I therefore have no hesitation in declaring this sacred place, that not only throughout the United States of America, but throughout every part of the habitable world where slavery exists, it will be abolished.”

July 4, 1831, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was sung for the first time for a group of children at an Independence Day celebration at the Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. Samuel Francis Smith had written the lyrics while attending the Andover Theological Seminary.

July 4, 1861 President Abraham Lincoln addresses the 27th Congress requesting 400,000 troops in response to a recent skirmish at Harper’s Ferry.

July 4, 1863 General John C. Pemberton surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, Mississippi. General Grant’s troops had surrounded Vicksburg in late May and had laid siege to the town. His army had constructed nearly 15 miles of trenches that enclosed Pemberton’s force of 29,000 men. Grant commanded more than 70,000 troops and was confident that it was only a matter of time before Pemberton’s surrender. During the siege conditions for both military and civilians quickly deteriorated. Residents of Vicksburg dug caves into the hillsides to avoid the continual bombardments of General Grant’s forces. After nearly six weeks General Pemberton was compelled to surrender.

The citizens and descendants of the people of Vicksburg would not celebrate the Fourth of July for 81 years.

Also on this day, General Robert E. Lee withdrew his troops from the battlefield at Gettysburg. In three days of fighting Lee had lost 4,708 men with nearly 13,000 wounded.

July 4, 1866 a carelessly tossed firecracker starts a raging inferno that destroys half of the city of Portland, Maine. The first Independence Day celebration after the end of the Civil War resulted in the most destructive fire yet seen at that time. The blaze began near a boathouse on Commercial Street and spread to a lumberyard then on to a sugar mill. As it spread across the city 10,000 residents were made homeless as 1,800 buildings burned to the ground. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described his hometown: “Desolation! Desolation! Desolation! It reminds me of Pompeii...”

July 4, 1870 Congress declares the day a National Holiday.

July 4, 1881 U.S. Minister Levi Parsons Morton is presented with the completed statue of “Liberty,” still encased in builders scaffolding, at an official ceremony held in Paris, France.

July 4, 1883 Buffalo Bill Cody presents his first ‘Wild West Extravaganza” for the folks of North Platte, Nebraska.

July 4, 1895 Katherine Lee Bates publishes her original composition, “America the Beautiful.”

July 4, 1917 the U.S. made the first public display of troops in support of France during the ‘Great War’ by marching through the streets of Paris. The troops marched to the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who heroically came to the aid of the Patriots during the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire. The Marquis had been buried in soil that he had requested to be brought from America. When the columns of soldiers reached the tomb, American officer Colonel Charles Stanton declared, “Lafayette, we are here!”

July 4, 1940 German occupiers forbid anti-Nazi speeches.

July 4, 1941 Latvia partisans execute 416 Jews.

July 4, 1944 One thousand, one hundred U.S. guns fire a 4th of July salute into the German lines at Normandy. Also on this day, the people of Vicksburg, Mississippi celebrate the first Independence Day since the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863.

July 4, 1946 the Philippines gain independence from the United States.

July 4, 1969 Ohio fireworks display kills 18 and destroys more than 100 boats on Lake Erie.

July 4, 2004 the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower is laid at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City.

July 4, 2009 the Statue of Liberty’s crown observation deck reopens after 8 years of closure following the attacks on the World Trade Center.

July 4, 2014 God bless America. Let freedom ring!

M. Timothy Nolting is an award winning Nebraska columnist and freelance writer. To contact Tim, email: acrossthefence2day@gmail.com

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