July 4th… what comes to mind when you hear that date? Do you think of parades, picnics and fireworks? Maybe that date reminds you of summer, watermelon, and playing in the sprinklers. As for me I automatically think of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and then my Civil War knowledge sneaks in there. I’ll share that with you, first.
If you were unaware, this year marks the 150th anniversaries of both the Battle of Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg. July 1 – 3, 1863 saw the Confederate army fighting around a little town in southern Pennsylvania. This was the farthest north that the Confederate Army had ever maneuvered, and they hoped to stay in the north for a while in order to give Virginia some respite from the ever-moving armies. General Robert E. Lee was actually winning on the first two days of the battle. On July 1st he managed to chase the Union army through Gettysburg and pin them on the ridges just east and southeast of the town. On the second day his men were doing some pretty good damage on Culp’s Hill and almost managed to flank the southern point of the Union line. Unfortunately there was some lagging being done by General James Longstreet, so by the time his Texans tried to take Big Round Top the Union army had already positioned a few regiments there who maintained their ground. It was the third day, July 3, when Lee should have been able to really sock it to General Meade and his Union army. Instead the Union army manages to hold its ground and inflicted some serious damage on the Confederates. Once Lee started his retreat back across the Rappahannock River he would never again lead his men onto Union soil.
At this same time in the western theater of the war, General Ulysses S Grant was laying siege to Vicksburg, Mississippi. You see, Vicksburg was located at the mouth of the Mississippi River and thus the Union needed to control that town if they were going to control the entire Mississippi (which at this point in time was a HUGE advantage to have). Grant had managed to gain control of most of the rest of the river and Vicksburg was his last obstacle. Due to the fact that it sat up high on a bluff it really wasn’t the easiest place to attack head-on. Instead, Grant decided that laying siege would work a lot better. As General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell, boys,” and so in essence Grant was starving the people of Vicksburg so that they would surrender. He cut off their supply lines and they were left to only whatever they already had in town. This went on for a few months, and finally Vicksburg had decided that it would surrender. A person who had formerly lived in the north and knew how the Northerners thought advised them to wait until July 4th, a few days away, because he figured that if they surrendered on the Union’s day of Independence they might be a little more lenient. That’s exactly what happened, and for 81 years the city of Vicksburg refused to celebrate Independence Day.
So, what is Independence Day? It is the day that our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence where they basically told King George that we weren’t going to live under his tyrannical rule any longer. We had tried for a LONG time to discuss what was happening to us colonists over here and how we thought that we needed a stronger voice in the decisions that affected us, such as taxation and other things. We were just peon colonists, however, and weren’t capable of ruling ourselves per England’s way of thinking. Luckily for us we had some of the brightest minds in history living in our country. I want to share the Declaration of Independence with you. As you read it try to keep in mind that this was an act of rebellion and any one of these men could have been hung as traitors by the crown. This was not an easy decision for these men to make; they had to consider what could possibly happen to them and their families if they put their names to this document. Fortunately for us they decided that liberty and the ability to make our own choices was more important to them. They were willing to lay down their lives for the dream of what they thought this country could become. So many more have actually laid down their lives to protect this nation, this freedom, and what it means to people all over the world. Take a moment for serious reflection, if you could.
The Declaration of Independence
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 harass 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 benefit 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 mericless 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 British 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.
New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Phillip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton