Off and On: Our history is well worth learning

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By Ralph Damiani

The July 4th weekend is a celebration of our nation’s independence and our nation’s survival.

July 4th 145 years ago saw the retreat of the Confederate Army from Gettysburg in defeat, perhaps saving the nation from a permanent split.

And it led t o the ideal we strove for, as President Lincoln enunciated in his Gettysburg Address and that led to the end of slavery here.

As we celebrated the anniversary of an event in world history on Friday that deserves to be remembered, we must seek to honor the event every day.

For it was on that day that a group of people formally declared the value of man.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared our independence from Britain and our democracy was born and we became the world’s beacon for freedom.

Every day, thousands leave their homeland to come to the “land of the free and the home of the brave” so they can live the dream of everyone – to be free.

Our Independence Day celebration is an annual holiday commemorating the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Although the signing of the Declaration was not completed until August, the Fourth of July holiday has been accepted as the official anniversary of United States independence and is celebrated in all states and territories of the U.S.

The holiday was first observed in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, at which time the Declaration of Independence was read aloud, city bells rang and bands played. It was not declared a legal holiday until 1941.

The Fourth is traditionally celebrated publicly with parades and pageants, patriotic speeches, and organized firing of guns and cannons and displays of fireworks. Early in the 20th century public concern for a safe and sane holiday resulted in restrictions on general use of fireworks. Family picnics and outings are a feature of private Fourth of July celebrations.

Although Philadelphians marked the first anniversary of American independence with a spontaneous celebration, observing Independence Day only became commonplace after the War of 1812. Soon, events like ground-breaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities.

In 1859, the Banneker Institute of Philadelphia, Penn., urged African Americans to celebrate Independence Day while bearing witness to the inconsistencies between the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the practice of slavery.

And here is where the Declaration sets us – and our Founding Fathers – apart.

There has been much criticism of the Constitution for allowing slavery and of our Founding Fathers for owning slaves. And that criticism is hard to ignore, because in their hearts, most must have known what they were doing was wrong.

But they compromised and left the matter to be dealt with later. Tragically, it took a horrific civil war to deal with this matter.

But nonetheless, these men never closed the door and gave us a clear direction as to what our nation’s ultimate goal should and must be when they wrote in the Declaration: “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.”

And while the Constitution sought to parse words as to what a man was, the Declaration made no such distinction.

All it said was that all men are equal.

The United States is truly a diverse nation made up of dynamic people.

Each year on July 4, we celebrate that freedom and independence with barbecues, picnics and family gatherings.

Through the Internet and the shrinking of the world we are learning about, and communicating with, people of different nations, with different languages and of different races. This seeks to bring the world closer together through understanding and knowledge to the benefit all nations.

Of all the nations in the world, we are still the only one that is totally free; where all that matters is your ability and desire to want to succeed. Who your family is does not matter. All that matters is who you are. It is still the place people of every corner of the globe want to come to.

So we urge you to learn of our history, celebrate our diversity and acknowledge all that we have achieved and all that still needs to be done.

Happy 232nd birthday, America!

E-mail Ralph at ralph@lamonitor.com.