Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our Level of Patriotism

Webster's dictionary defines patriotism as "love for or devotion to one's country." Consider the phrase, "love for." What one loves, one respects. Have we today departed from President John F. Kennedy's plea? "Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

What is our level of patriotism? How much do we love America? Are we, its citizens, among those who are most critical of its present policies? Are we looking for what our country can do for us?

The Fourth of July is a good time to renew our love for and devotion to country.

Does seeing Old Glory flutter in the breeze send a message to your mind of the freedoms that have been won dearly and which we enjoy today? Let us take a little journey back into history. Maybe we can refresh our patriotism and determine to be more loyal to a country that gives us "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The Fourth of July is observed as the official birthday of our country. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence became the document whereby the colonies declared their separation from England. It was not as simple as signing the document penned mainly by Thomas Jefferson and subscribed to by the other four members of the committee. The Continental Congress debated lines, changed statements. Jefferson, the youngest of the delegates to the Congress at age 32 had to return to his desk and revise the document according to strong suggestions made. The revision was approved on July 4, 1776.

Prior to adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies were already at war with Britain, fighting for their rights. Militia units throughout the colonies were building up supplies and arms against encroachments by British soldiers. How well do we remember the cries of "taxation without representation" and the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773 when "every chest from the three vessels was knocked to pieces."

There followed what the colonists declared as "The Intolerabe Acts," five laws passed by the British Parliament against the "rebellious" colonists. Each stricture by Britain, and the build up of the Red Coat Army on colonial soil sent strong ripples of dissent throughout the colonies.

Tories were the party in the colonies that supported British rule; patriots were forming their own local militia to oppose the British.

Patrick Henry, one of the patriots, spoke in the Virginia legislature on March 23, 1775 supporting the resolution that the colony be immediately put in a state of defense and begin to assemble arms and men to do battle. Henry's impassioned speech ended with these words: "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

We recall the poem by William Wadsworth Longfellow that made famous the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and the sign in the old North Church of lanterns lighted to alert the militia of the British approach: "one if by land, two if by sea." That date in history was April 18, 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence.

The very next day, April 19, 1975, British troops were marching toward Concord, Massachusetts. At Lexington, the local militia beat their drums and fired their guns, providing a brief and unexpected interruption for the advancing British. At that confrontation, eight of the militia were killed and ten wounded.

The British troops continued their march toward Concord and it was there, on April 20, 1775, that the famous "shot heard 'round the world" was fired. The militia had been instructed not to fire unless fired upon. Because of the brave fighting of the Americans, the British retreated from Concord.

Militia throughout the colonies were on alert, building their supplies and recruits. It was on June 15, 1775 that George Washington was chosen by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia to become Commander-in-Chief of the American armies. He had an almost impossible task both in communication and action to bring the scattered militia into a semblance of a united American force. They suffered terribly from the elements, lack of provisions, desertion. The terrible winter at Valley Forge is an example of utter hardship.

On June 17, 1775, the famous Battle of Bunker Hill took place. American General Israel Putnam had cautioned his men, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes." The British far outnumbered the American troops. But at each confrontation, the militia fought valiantly.

In January of 1776, the pamphlet entitled "Common Sense" written by Thomas Paine was widely circulated in the colonies. In it, Paine advocated separation from England, declaring that "virtue is not hereditary" and "We are not Englishmen; we are Americans." This set the stage for Virginia's Richard Henry Lee to make the statement in the meeting of the Continental Congress in June, 1776: "These United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." His words, almost verbatim, were included in the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, using political philosophy advocated by the seventeenth century philosopher, Englishman John Locke, and bearing the meaningful words we have come to cherish: "All men are created equal" and among their rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

We know the story. Many of our ancestors took up arms against the British. America won freedom at a heavy cost in lives and fortunes. Since the surrender of British General Cornwallis at Yorktown , Virginia on October 19, 1781, America has been on the road to the liberties applauded in the Declaration of Independence. A nation, even at one time divided into North and South in a bitter conflict, has survived. It has been 231 years since the birth of our nation on July 4, 1776.

At the famed battle of Yorktown, the flag with its stars and stripes was mounted and fluttered in the breeze. Private Joseph Martin wrote: "I felt a secret pride swell in my heart when I saw the star-spangled banner waving majestically."

And so may our pride and patriotism rise for this "land of the free and the home of the brave." May we never take our blessings and privileges for granted.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 5, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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