Wednesday, July 8, 2020

July 4, 2020

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 tissues.

All of these events bring me to the reason for this article.

“The Promise” 

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?

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are the foundation documents of America. From these we build our country.

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 generations.

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 fight.

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 hire laborers.

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”.

Michael Tieman
President, Oregon SAR