I began my preparations for this year’s July 4th celebration about a month ago when I started reading David McCullough’s ‘1776‘. This was hardly difficult work as the book was a breeze to read and all I needed to prepare for was to eat hot dogs, drink beer, and love my country. That is an easy check, check, check for me. Of course, the fact that I get to have such a wonderful and carefree celebration is due to the sacrifices of so many. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will celebrate today’s 4th overseas, with many in harms way. American history is full of troubled times and events that tested our freedom, security, and way of life. It may be tough to say with a straight face, but freedom isn’t free, and it isn’t a buck o’ five either.
Our country’s Founding Fathers where aware of this and they risked life and limb in order to free the United States from her mother England. Though it is true that almost all of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence were from well-to-do backgrounds, many of them lent their arms on the battle field of the Revolutionary War and all of them stuck their figurative and literal necks out when they signed the Declaration. McCullough’s engaging and substantive overview of the tumultuous first year of the Revolutionary War provides a multitude of examples of bravery and devotion by General George Washington, many of his lieutenants, the Continental Congress, and thousands of everyday citizens.
The book strictly covers the happenings of only the year 1776; basically going through the battle of Boston, New York, and ending with the Continental Army’s triumph at the Battle of Trenton. One will not find a detailed description of the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence in ’1776′ as this is mainly a military history which also brings to light elements of the society and politics of the day. ’1776′ is a fantastic way to remind yourself that the United States just didn’t happen. Cold nights, a most formidable foe, Loyalists abounding, young and weak central governance, disease, inexperienced military soldiers and leaders (even Washington), a near non-existent navy; these were just some of the trials and obstacles standing in the way of American independence. Independence and freedom just don’t spring up out of the ground or fall from the sky. It takes tremendous sacrifice and determination, things of which our forefathers had in spades. According to McCullough, General and future President George Washington and the men he led were prime examples of this:
Financial support from France and the Netherlands, and military support from the French army and navy, would play a large part in the outcome. But in the last analysis it was Washington and the army that won the war for American independence. The fate of the war and the revolution rested on the army. The Continental Army – not the Hudson River or the possession of New York or Philadelphia – was the key to victory. And it was Washington who held the army together and gave it ‘spirit’ through the most desperate of times.
He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgement. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.
’1776′ Pg. 293
So while I’m enjoying my family, food, and fireworks today, I will have in my thoughts the brave men and women who made this day possible. Not only those who brought American independence in 1776, but those who have stood tall to defend it in the nearly 250 years since. Thank you and Happy 4th of July.