The meaning of Independence Day

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Editor’s note: Following is the text of the speech given by E. Dana Dickens III at the Eclipse Independence Day celebration Monday.

By E. Dana Dickens III

If we ask someone what we are celebrating today, the answer will usually be &uot;July 4th.&uot;

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Which is right, but that answer does not really define the day.

We are celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and all that the Declaration stands for.

And many of us, who are more years from that history class than we want to admit, may not remember some of the events.

So, today, I want to refresh your memory on some significant events related to the Declaration of Independence and their lasting impact on each of us here today.

In the mid 1770’s, the colonies were suffering under the rule of King George III of England, who was levying more and more taxation on the colonists, the Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, Intolerable Act and many more.

The British East India Tea Company was losing money and persuaded King George to enact a levy on tea sold to the colonies.

In protest, Samuel Adams and about 60 patriots from Boston, dressed as Indians, boarded three English ships in Boston Harbor and destroyed all the tea aboard.

The Boston Tea Party, a peaceful episode, was a major event leading to the Revolutionary War.

Interestingly, the Tea Party drew criticism from many honorable colonists including Ben Franklin.

Franklin opposed the destruction of property and said the cost of the tea should be repaid offering to do so with his own funds.

Skirmishes between colonists and the English followed the Tea Party until April of 1775, when Paul Revere’s ride warned colonist that the &uot;British are coming&uot;, &uot;the British are coming.&uot;

&uot;One if by land and two if by sea&uot; was the signal before his midnight ride to Lexington.

Next day, on the Lexington Green, eight colonial militiamen were killed by the &uot;shots heard around the world.&uot;

Our beloved Virginia was the first colony to talk of independence by voting for a committee to speak for the colonies.

That committee, called the first Continental Congress, met in September of 1774.

They laid out their grievances with the king and later named George Washington commander of the Continental Army. Skirmishes escalated into the eight-year Revolutionary War.

The second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia July 2, 1776 and on July 4, signed the Thomas Jefferson authored Declaration of Independence from England.

I quote from the document: &uot;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 entitle them.

&uot;They were honorable men as they further said… a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes, which impel them to the separation.

The Declaration further said

&uot;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.&uot;

After outlining their grievances against the king of England, they closed the Declaration with a pledge to each other:

&uot;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.&uot;

That important line illustrates the price these men were willing to pay for freedom, the freedom we all too often take for granted today.

Five of them were captured and tortured to death. Nine died in the war. Twelve lost their homes and all paid a heavy toll.

But the king could do no harm to their sacred honor, that honor that lives on today and we celebrate on Independence Day.

These men embodied the heartfelt words of Patrick Henry who said: &uot;I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death&uot;.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we can never imagine the pain , suffering and loss of property that came to these men and their families.

But know that they invested all they had in the future of our nation and the freedom we and much of the world embrace today.

So on this day, July 4, 2005, we honor the 56 men and the Declaration of Independence they signed allowing 229 years later, to hold these truths as 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.

God Bless you, God bless Freedom and God bless America.&uot;

E. Dana Dickens III is a former Chuckatuck borough city councilman, a former mayor of Suffolk, and president of the Hampton Roads Partnership.