I found this artwork entitled “Our Heavenbound Banner” online at the US Library of Congress (www.loc.gov). It is among the thousands available online without restriction. The history of this artwork is from a time in our country’s history in which we were divided by civil war. There is much we can learn today from our nation’s history and how we became so divided, and how we restored the Union. This artwork was accompanied by the following verses:
“When Freedom from her mountain height/Unfurled her standard to the air, / She tore the azure robe of night / And set the stars of glory there. / She mingled with its gorgeous dyes / The milky baldrick of the skies, / And striped its pure celestial white / With streakings of the morning light. “
Why Study History: Many of us have differing views of studying history. Some love history and others do not find joy in its discussion or analysis. Many of those I grew up with will well remember learning South Carolina history from Mrs. Sally McMillan. Every day we came into her class room and a list of questions was written on the chalk board. We were required to write those questions in our note book and prepare responses by the next day. No laptop computers, no xeroxed copies or prepared work books. The act of writing, likely helped each of us learn and remember the subject better as well as to strengthen our writing skills. After we wrote down our questions we would go through our homework and have classroom discussion. Mrs. McMillan made history real for us.
What Others Have Said: I am fascinated that some of the busiest people I know still find the time and value in studying our history. There are many who have expressed an opinion about the value of studying history. For example:
- James Burke said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you are.”
- J. Frank Dobie said, “The man for whom history is bunk is almost invariably as obtuse to the future as he is blind to the past.”
- Betinna Drew said, ”The past reminds us of timeless human truths and allows for the perpetuation of cultural traditions that can be nourishing; it contains examples of mistakes to avoid, preserves the memory of alternatives ways of doing things, and is the basis for self-understanding…”
Why We Celebrate July 4th: By the summer of 1776, the 13 colonies were embroiled in conflict with England for more than a year. The Continental Congress was first organized in 1774 and served as the formal means by which the colonial governments coordinated against British rule during the early days of the American Revolution. The role of the Congress was to balance the interests of the different colonies and to serve as the official liaison with the British. The Continental Congress would evolve into the national government.
June 1776, the Continental Congress was at the Philadelphia State House in their annual meeting. On June 7th, Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee proposed this resolution:
“Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
While the resolution was not immediately voted on, a Committee was formed to draft a formal Declaration of Independence. Members of the Committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The task of drafting the actual document fell on Jefferson. The story of the crafting process is something we all should study. In the hot humid summer, the Committee toiled to draft and come to agreement on the language. Only after dedicating the process to God through prayer did the Committee come to full agreement. The Continental Congress reconvened, making minor edits on July 3rd and then late in the afternoon of July 4 a vote was taken. Of the 13 colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration, two — Pennsylvania and South Carolina — voted No, Delaware was undecided and New York abstained. There is a story that I plan to explore why South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted not, and why New York abstained. The story most of us learned as children was that John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence ”with a great flourish” so England’s “King George can read that without spectacles!”
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Celebrations: We determined as a nation to honor the day we declared our independence through celebration. Across the country there are parades, fireworks, and music. Families come together and have picnics, cook outs , and many take vacations.
It is also a time that we should remember all those who have served this nation to enable us to fully realize our liberty. Man and women from all walks of life, have served in our military, put their lives on the line to stand in defense of liberty. From those who served during the Revolution such as General George Washington….
to Senator Robert Dole, who survived what should have been a mortal wound in a battle in World War II, to come home and continue serving his country, to Strom Thurmond (on the left) and my father (on the far right) who both served in the military (my father in combat in Korea)….and the 24 percent of men and 2 percent of women in our counry who are veterans today and those who volunteered to serve in uniform. Thank you. And to hold in prayer those who paid the ultimate price. Freedom isn’t free.
When I was in high school I took an interest in geneology. It was something I was able to work on with my father, although we were 500 miles apart. Our family, like our nation, had been torn apart. Over the years, this interest in family and history helped bridge gaps and gave me a reason to engage grandparents and other relatives in sharing the stories of our family. Before the age of the internet, my interest took me to the National Archives and the microfiche records. Today, thanks to the internet and ancestry.com, many records are available online. I’m working to expand our family history to include not just the direct ancestors but to fill in the gaps of the aunts, uncles and cousins. And coming to more fully understand who I truly am and the history of my family and how it relates to the history of this great country. My father had always said we were distantly related to Henry Clay. I have not yet traced back to that connection; however in 1999, the first time I came off an elevator at the Capitol off the floor of the House Chamber, I looked up to see a series of murals one of which was Henry Clay. At that point, I had not doubt that there is some family connection as he has some of the distinct facial features of the men in my family.
As we celebrate our independence today, there is much turmoil in our country and abroad. There are more than 50,000 children who have come into the United States illegally and without their parents. What was originally a law enforcement matter has morphed into a humanitarian crisis. In the middle east, as Muslims fast and pray through the month of Ramadan, Iraq, remains in turmoil, with terrorists attempting to take a major portion of the country and its valuable assets. These terrorists present problems not just for Iraq, but also for Syria and Jordan and concerns in Saudi Arabia have led to a significant contingent of Saudi troops being positioned their border with Iraq. These terrorists have disrupted the holy month with their aggression. Having lived in the Middle East, I am reminded daily as I review these issues, how blessed we are as a nation.
This week, a dear friend from the region sent me an email that included the following:
“America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact , the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality…Dear If your country is worth dying for in time of war let you resolve that it is truly worth living for in time of peace..I hope your dreams take you to the most special places your heart has ever known.”
My wish for each of you this Independence Day is that you truly live..enjoy this nation, revel in our history and believe in the power of God to see your dreams fulfilled.