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Undimmed by human tears
Jul 8, 2012 - By Randy Tucker
Independence Day's origins are obscured by a cloud of hamburger smoke.
The temperature hovered near 100 degrees, and the humidity wasn't far behind.
It would still be 126 years before Willis Carrier invented modern air conditioning, so there wasn't much for the delegates to do except swat flies -- and engage in the most important political debate that any diverse group of men would ever undertake.
The continental congress began the arduous process of declaring independence from Britain in 1776 by debating a proposal from Virginia's Richard Henry Lee. And enduring quote came in his motion for independence: "These united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states."
The Virginians were the first to openly declare their intention to create a free and united system of states from the existing English colonies. The debate that followed was observed quietly by another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, and from his notes our renowned Declaration of Independence came to life.
Two generations later, Robert E. Lee, Richard Henry's grand nephew led Virginia again in another struggle for independence. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia won nearly every encounter on the battle field, but the Confederacy lost the war. America survived the greatest test it will ever face.
We celebrate our independence on the Fourth of July every year in a uniquely American way. Blowing up fireworks, grilling steaks, parades, gatherings at the beach, the mountains, or just dinners in the back yard are but a few of the ways Americans mark the day.
But I wonder how many people have the least inkling of the events that actually led to this celebration. The study and understanding of our history is in decline and has been for the last two generations.
It seems that Hollywood has replaced the formal study of our past, and in the quest to entertain us the message has become so convoluted, so "politically correct" and so slanted that it bears little resemblance to the events in Philadelphia 236 years ago.
We attended our first summer concert last Monday in Riverton's City Park. I always appreciate the efforts of community musicians, and I especially enjoy the martial music that usually accompanies the Independence Day celebration.
This concert was no exception, with familiar tunes from John Philip Sousa and patriotic melodies transcending the last two centuries.
Many songs vie for contention as America's true national anthem in spite of the "Star Spangled Banner" having that official status. President Woodrow Wilson declared it so by executive order in 1916. In the midst of President Herbert Hoover's crumbling, depression ridden regime he signed it into law on March 3, 1931 after Congress formerly passed the resolution.
School children once were taught the story of Francis Scott Key writing the lyrics and setting it to an old English drinking song but that has gone away in the era of standardized testing. There just isn't enough room in the curriculum or time in the day to worry about much besides reading comprehension and basic math functions. Few adults, and even fewer children, can explain the seemingly obscure lyrics of "the rockets red glare" or the "bombs bursting in air." Interview a dozen people, and most of them will tell you the song is about the fireworks we set off to celebrate the holiday. Not many will recite the events of the English naval barrage on Fort McHenry in an attempt to capture the port of Baltimore.
A month earlier, in a summer swelter the equivalent of the one nearly four decades before in Philadelphia, the 8,000 residents of Washington were driven from their homes as English army burned the capitol. America isn't the same place as it was two centuries ago, but few take the time to learn the difference.
While the "Star Spangled Banner" actually celebrates the events of the war that some refer to as the "Second American Revolution," the meaning of the national anthem has gradually eroded over time.
We hear it at sporting events and other public functions. It elicits a variety of emotions among us, but I, for one, prefer "America the Beautiful" as our national anthem.
When I hear Ray Charles sing this song it epitomizes America to me. While I enjoy his voice, it may be the image of a blind, black man singing the song that blends in so many of America's virtues into a single piece of music.
My favorite of the song's eight stanzas is the opening half of the fourth;
"O beautiful for patriot dream, That sees beyond the years, Thine alabaster cities gleam, Undimmed by human tears!"
It is always a good thing to remember the real reason we celebrate an event.