This year’s 4th of July weekend was like no other I have experienced in the last five years. Normally, I would get dressed in my Continental Uniform and gather up my 1763 Charleville musket and be in a small-town parade with my compatriots of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Not this year. Not with the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic roaring across
American cities and towns unchecked. This year we must be masked and
social distanced in public and keep the groups to under 25 and be aware
that we over 60 are in the age group with the highest deaths.
Yes, a different 4th of July. Happy 244th Birthday America.
What did I do instead of the parades and gatherings?
On the evening of the 4th, I put on my Continental Uniform
coat and tricorn hat, grabbed a handful of small American flags and my
wife and I went to our youngest daughter’s home and enjoyed their
fireworks. When the neighbors came over to watch our fireworks my wife
and I handed out flags to everyone. We were rebels for a few hours
celebrating the birth of our country. No politics, no demonstrations, no
discord, just fun and celebration with our fellow countrymen and women.
To top the weekend off, my wife and I watched the movie “Hamilton” on
cable tv. Two hours and 40 minutes of a wonderfully done play. Loved the
cast, the songs, the lighting, the scenery and yes, the story.
I won’t tell you about it … no spoiler alert here, but I must say my
favorite “people” in the play were King George III, and Thomas
Jefferson, they stole the play. Oh, and don’t forget your box of
All of these events bring me to the reason for this article.
This weekend’s events reminded me of the Revolutionary War presentations I have done at schools to the 5th and 8th grade students. I have learned two things from them … show no fear and tell the facts.
The 8th graders have been the most engaging in our conversations and the same questions are asked time and again.
What makes The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States so special?
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States
are the foundation documents of America. From these we build our
In 1776 this fragile little collection of 13 rebel colonies stood up and
waving the Declaration of Independence, declared to England and the
world that we will be free and that this new country’s goals and
aspirations and promise is that “All men are created
equal”. That we will fight and die for this piece of paper. Our
ancestors did and have done this in every generation since 1776. It is a
constant battle, and one we must continue to fight in this and future
We fought and died in wars since 1776, in this country and around the
world … and still we fight. We fought and died in the early 1900’s the
60’s and 70’s for Women’s freedoms … and still we fight. We fought and
died after the Civil War in the early 1900’s, and the 50’s and 60’s and
70’s for Black and Brown and Native American freedoms … and still we
It is our responsibility as citizens of this country to fight for the promise of the Declaration of Independence ... and still we fight.
The Constitution of the United States on the other hand is the blueprint to our citizens as to how we make that promise
happen. Legally and Peacefully. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech,
freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and to petition the Government.
The role and responsibility of the three equal branches of government.
The adding of Amendments to the Constitution to help fulfill the promise. It’s a living, breathing document, not static but ever changing to get us closer to the promise we made to the world and our citizens that … “All men are created equal”.
The next big question is always,
“Yes we fought the Revolutionary War for freedom for all, why were the Blacks not freed?”
The answer becomes complicated at best.
In 1770 out of a population of 2.3 million in the 13 colonies, over
450,000 were Blacks with 406,000 in the Southern colonies. During the
Revolutionary War, the Patriot army was over 380,000 strong, (but never
more than 35,000 soldiers served at any one time), and about 5,000-9,000
were Black. In the British army of over 107,000 there were 20,000
Blacks that fought but up to 100,000 went over to the British side. Both
sides promised food and clothes and wages and freedom after the war.
Blacks fought in almost every infantry company (in integrated troops)
and on the decks of every ship from the first shot at the Boston
Massacre to Yorktown. Yet, most were not freed after the war.
The promise was broken.
But there was change in the wind.
After the war by 1783 the New England states of NH, MA, RI, CT, VT
abolished slavery. The Middle states of PA, NY, NJ, DE abolished slavery
by early 1800.
There were two main reasons for these changes. In the northern states
the attitude was “…the Blacks fought beside us for freedom for all, so
they are free like us”. Second, economics. In these states it was more
expensive to keep slaves then it was to have indentured servants or to
In the South, their attitude was different as was the economics. Blacks
fought in the war in place of their masters and yet most Blacks did not
fight since the masters could not trust them with a musket. They did the
menial jobs. After the war, most were sent back as “returned property”.
As to economics, manual slave labor was cheap and plentiful, over 60%
of the population in South Carolina were Black slaves.
On Jan 1, 1808 President Thomas Jefferson signed a law banning the slave
trade, but not banning owning slaves. He only freed seven of his
hundreds of slaves during his lifetime and on his death. His slaves were
passed on to his family as "property".
Our young country’s history was not always pretty, and our ancestors were not perfect. But they had a vision, a promise worth fighting for. We cannot change our past, but we can change the present and the future.
"We the people ..." hold up the Declaration of Independence to our government to remind them of their promise to its citizens and to remind them and us of our responsibilities as citizens.
“All men are created equal”.
President, Oregon SAR
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
SAR Compatriot:Eugen Foley
Illegitimi Non Carborundum
I am grossly over-educated, which means I’ve got way too much “stuff” crammed into a limited-capacity storage device, my brain. So, I was thinking…uh huh…the Sons of the American Revolution should have a password, like the fraternities have. Or, perhaps, some common experience to recall by use of a title or phrase. So, if I were to meet Rob in a dark alley in a strange country, one of us would say “Marbury” and the other would say “Madison.” Marbury v. Madison is the typical starting point for first-year law students. And then we could identify our specialties…I’m partial to “Black Motor.” The Black Motor Car case validated the process by which a reserve for bad debts could be used against taxable income. Well, see what I mean…too much “stuff” filed in the cranium.
Practically speaking, however, we do have something to say to each other when we meet…we can speak about our ancestors, particularly those that served in the revolution. These aren’t so much stories, but are pieces of our history, that when put together, describe the founding of the most amazing country ever in history. What Rob and I learned in Law School didn’t exist before Marbury v. Madison. At the time of the Revolution, and part of the reason for the Revolution, consisted of compliance with laws that were created in a distant land. A land that had kings and princes, created knights and ladies as the favorites of their overlords, and nobles sat in a House of Lords set apart from the House of Commons.
As the Colonies were being settled, local councils were formed and leaders chosen. They were too far from the Motherland to be able to call for guidance from the distant courts. As the numbers grew, however, economics and territorial integrity in the face of foreign expansion resulted in a shift from local rule, back to the rules legislated from the homeland. So, here is the challenge to those of us whose families were here from the earliest days: Can we be open-minded enough to see that there is an essential evolution in self-governance that sometimes requires more than evolution, perhaps even revolution?
I’ll leave to the reader how that applies to today. But, as this is a column is about our genealogies, I’m reminded that many of our early judicial practices focused on violations of the accepted norms. In some communities you were fined for growing a beard, and in others for not having a beard. You were fined if you didn’t show up to church, unless you were assigned the watch. Of course, if you didn’t attend to the watch you were fined. And, on and on.
When I first did the genealogy for my children, I became enamored by the number of preachers and ministers there were on both sides of their family trees. Of course, it pleased me to see the names of the famous preachers of their times, Cotton Mather, Solomon Stoddard, and my favorite (kind of…) Jonathan Edwards, who was called as the early president at what would become Princeton (where I studied while attending the Seminary).
Circling back to forms of government in the earlier days of the Colonies, one finds that the religious leaders were very much a part of the process by which the rules were administered. When you review your ancestors, examine their roles in the legal processes they participated in. As we learn about how our ancestors lived, there is often an opportunity to see what leadership roles they played, AND where they ran afoul of the local system of justice. As I did such a review of my ancestors, I found many admirable traits, and a few surprises that reset my thoughts toward otherwise fabled leaders. And though I hate to close with a disappointment in my own search, I found several relations to the Salem Witch Trials…a couple were hung, a couple died otherwise, one was acquitted, and one watched with approval…and my respect for the famous preacher of that time, Cotton Mather, was lost.
Our “passwords” as we gather with other members are the memorials of our ancestors. When the stories are truly complete, they are more than just that we had an ancestor serve in the Revolution. They are the stories of peoples’ lives, how they lived, and what they believed. We honor them for their contributions to our great country, but we also recognize them as individuals who were farmers, coopers, tinkers, cobblers, smiths, inn keepers, fisherman, wheelwrights, merchants…and preachers. Some were poor, and others wealthy. Some worked and some played. Some fought and some died. Each played a part in who we have become, and as we learn from them, who we will be.