We as Americans celebrate our freedom on July 4th. But is that the true date of our independence? The Continental Congress voted for independence on July 2nd. It was dated the 4th, but John Adams was quoted saying that the 2nd of July would go down in history and should be celebrated with fireworks. Well, that didn't work out. Another kicker is the document wasn't even fully signed until August 2nd! Does this really matter to us in America now? No, not really, and it really shouldn't matter too much. It's just a date, but it's interesting nonetheless.
What's important is that our forefathers decided to rebel against the British and sign the Declaration of Independence, largely written by Thomas Jefferson, but with a little help from others. Why did we want independence? A quick synopsis would be that the British were unfair and had performed atrocities against the colonies. The atrocities were mainly to do with small skirmishes and heavy taxes on paper, tea, and other items the colonist depended on. The tax on tea went up and down actually. Many people believe that the Boston Tea Party happened because the British had raised taxes on tea, and the Bostonites didn't like that. The British had, but then lowered them drastically. Lowering the tax upset the people of Boston. Why? The tea that the British brought in was the good stuff. They taxed it heavily on the colonist, which the colonist didn't like, but it lead to smuggling of tea. All of a sudden, people in America could get tea for cheap instead of paying outrageous prices for British tea. The British, realizing that smuggling was going on, decided to drastically lower the price of imported tea, so much that it was cheaper than the smuggled tea the people of the colonies sold to each other. This outraged many who saw this as the British messing with the American colonist. Never mind that they had tea at a smaller price. Therefore, a bunch of patriots dressed up as Indians and threw millions of dollars of tea into the ocean that were waiting to be unloaded.
The British, on top of taxing the colonist and messing with the American's seeming hatred of market competition(think of it as a 18th century version of the "Buy American" campaign), also demanded that colonist let them stay in their houses. This is now the third amendment to the constitution, stating that in peacetime, soldiers cannot quarter a house unless they have the owner's consent. This was all too much for many colonist. Many in big cities, especially Boston, protested and harassed the British. But, many of the colonist were still loyal to the King of England. It is a common misconception that every colonist back then wanted freedom from the British. So, not only did the patriots have the British to watch out for, but seemingly their neighbors.
We of course won our freedom from Britain after eight long years, making it the third longest war in American history, barely losing to the Vietnam War(64-75), and the longest war which is our current war in Afghanistan(01-present). I won't go in detail of the Revolutionary War, but ask a few questions about our independence.
I asked several co-workers and other friends what they associated with July 4th. I got a lot of answers that had to do with cook-outs, fireworks, friends and family. Others said redcoats, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and war. Both sections are legitimate responses. With new generations, our perspective on events changes a little bit. Having a cookout, having drinks and other things we do on the fourth are much more current. Fireworks have been used to celebrate since the year after independence. The question is, do we as Americans really think about the Revolution against the British on the fourth? Is the fourth of July an excuse to shoot off explosives and get wasted? The fourth though, is not just a celebration of our freedom from the British. It is a celebration of the American spirit. We have memorial day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, and I believe that the Fourth also should serve that purpose, though everyday we should thank our ancestors for their contributions. America went against huge odds to win it's freedom. Had it not been for Washington, France, and our familiarity with the landscape, we would have been decimated. Yes, I did mention France. We may poke fun at France for their lousy track record in military victories and being snooty, but the French are the reason we won the revolution and were again able to beat Britain to a stalemate in the War of 1812.
On the fourth, we must remember why we fought for our freedom, remember what makes this country so great, and why it's worth fighting for. While we have our cook outs and look at the pretty lights in the sky, let us not forget those who died in that long war for out freedom.
"We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!" OK, that may have been Bill Pullman's speech from the movie Independence Day. But he has a point. We are going to continue to live on no matter what enemy we face, whether it is the British or terrorists. America is a young country, but it is a strong country that does know how to fight.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Today is actually the last day of the battle of Gettysburg...if it were the year 1863. So marks the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Three more years! Anyway, today is the anniversary of the day of the ill-fated Pickett's Charge. For anyone unfamiliar, this is when General Lee sent Lt. General Longstreet's division to charge at General Meade's division on top of cemetery hill. Major General Pickett served under Longstreet and was lucky enough to get this idiotic attack named after him. The Union army under Meade had a better position, and proceeded to destroy about half of Longstreet's division. The overwhelming loss was the final straw for Lee who then ordered his men to retreat. Following in General McClellan's footsteps, General Meade took way too long to follow Lee's army, and were not able to permanently stamp out the army of Northern Virginia. This would of probably taken a good two years off of the war.
Nevertheless, the battle of Gettysburg, including main skirmishes at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, the Wheat field and the Peach orchard, is best known as the turning point of the war, along with General Grant's victory in Vicksburg. Though the Union's victory in Antietam helped get the Emancipation Proclamation passed, and the threat of foreign help to the Confederacy stamped out, Gettysburg proved that the war was turning in the Union's favor. It proved that the south could not win a battle in the North's territory.
When most people are asked to name one battle in the Civil War, which one do you think they say? That's right, Gettysburg. The little insignificant town was incidental put on the map thanks to this battle. But is it just because Gettysburg was the turning point of the war that people know it? I would say yes actually. In school, we only covered the "important" parts of the Civil War. Those included Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Appomattox. Most people wouldn't be able to name the Wilderness Battle, Seven Pines, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, or Cold Harbor. Were these events less relevant? That's debatable. Vicksburg definitely has a place among the biggest due to it being the key to cutting the Confederacy in half.
Unfortunately, unless you are a history buff, or actively go to reenactments, a lot of people forget about the anniversary of Gettysburg. It's conveniently located right before our Independence Day. Well, technically, our Independence day is during Gettysburg on the 2nd, but I'll get to that later. Our Independence Day is more important than Gettysburg arguably, but Gettysburg still should be remembered nonetheless. The victory there basically called the war in the union's favor, even though it would take them another two years to get Lee and the other armies to surrender. Lincoln would later write an address about the battle in the place where the battle took place. The people at the time seemed unimpressed by the short speech. Lincoln himself considered it a failure, but some time after people realized how perfect the speech was and now it is considered one of the best speeches ever written. If you get a chance, read the Gettysburg Address, and think about what was going through the president's mind and everyone elses mind at the time. The incredibly bloody battle was a glimmer of hope. It represented a real chance that this country would stay together, not be permanently torn apart.
I would recommend the movie Gettysburg if you haven't seen it already. It's really long, but it's fascinating even if you aren't a huge Civil War person. Also, if you happen to be in lower Pennsylvania, check out the battlefield itself. Seeing the battlefields really gives you a scope of how big these battles were. I'm actually going to visit Gettysburg in couple weeks, along with Harper's Ferry, and our nation's capitol.
Hope you enjoyed my Gettysburg edition of Histeria. Look for an Independence Day post soon.