POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
Independence Day 2009
by David Trumbull
July 3, 2009
It was audacious what they did in Philadelphia in early July 1776. In a fine musical play (and movie), "1776", you can see the men--Adams, Jefferson, Franklin--who argued and slowly won over their fellow members of the Continental Congress to get that important July 2nd vote and the more famous July 4th formal Declaration of Independence.
Yes, this weekend we'll hear much of the struggle for American independence. But the trouble is, you see, we know how the story ends. To us, each setback is just more dramatic tension building up to a grand release with fireworks and Tchaikovsky filling the air over the Boston Esplanade.
Now, imagine being in the crowd on July 18, 1776, hearing, for the first time in Boston, the Declaration of Independence read from the balcony of the building we now call the Old State House. You are standing on the very pavement where, six years earlier, British soldiers fired into a mob. You have lived through nearly a year of harsh British military occupation of Boston. But since March, when the British evacuated the city, Boston, has been, effectively, independent of the British authorities. Now you hear--after the fourteen days it takes to get news, by rutted dirt road and trail, from Philadelphia to Boston--that representatives of all thirteen colonies have declared for independency.
Boston in 1776 is a radical town. You cheer with the crowd each time the reader declaims against George III. "He has refused his Assent to Laws...He has forbidden his Governors... He has dissolved Representative Houses...He has endeavored to prevent...He has obstructed the Administration of Justice...He has erected a multitude of New Offices... He has combined with others...He has abdicated Government here." The anaphora, the repetition of the initial phrase "He has", heightens the crowd's hatred of tyranny and usurpation. It drives you to the inevitable conclusion "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."
Formerly unspeakable, nearly unthinkable ideas--disloyalty and rebellion--now appear as the highest values--liberty and independence. And to take arms against the king and duly constituted government is changed from naughtiness to virtue. Such is the power of Jefferson's call for independence.
But independence will not come easily. The war will take seven years, not ending until 1781. It does not, in medias res, seem at all inevitable that we Americans shall win independence from Great Britain. No one has heard of such a thing as a colony throwing off its mother country. And the idea that untrained volunteer farmer/soldiers will defeat the best professional army and navy in the world is nearly inconceivable. It is, in fact, a revolutionary idea.
[David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee. Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.]