While conducting research recently I came across on article about how much the average American knows about the history of their country. The article shared the results of a survey that Newsweek conducted last year. This survey showed that less than 30% of Americans knew what the constitution was, and even less, a shocking 6% knew what day Independence Day fell on. I realize that many of you reading this article know what the constitution is, know from whom America declared independence in 1776, and even might be able hum a few bars of our national anthem, but do you share this information?
Oral history is, to this author, an important part of the American way of life. It is a way to share information across generations. Oral traditions are an important part of many cultures, and for a great part of human history the only way that information was shared.
I will endeavor to not make this article a political treatise, but the reality is that many assume that the youth of America are learning government and civics in school. However, according to the figures above, this may not be the case. With the 4th of July celebrations just weeks away, I thought that this would be a great time, to remind all of you that while you are spending time with those that you love you may want to share a short quip about the day we declared our independence.
On the 4th of July we will be celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. On this day, the Second Continental Congress (made up of 56 delegates from all 13 colonies) declared independence from Great Britain. A committee of five of these delegates prepared the declaration on July 2nd, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, John Adams, and Robert Livingston.
The declaration was a final legal declaration separating the colonies from the tyrannous rule of King George III. The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence reads, ““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.”
Those 56 signers found themselves in danger from Britain after independence was declared. Five of them were captured by British soldiers, while others were persecuted, their homes ransacked and their property destroyed.
It is difficult to believe that a country that so thoroughly enjoys its freedom may not recall why we enjoy it so much. Each year American’s celebrate the courageous act of 56 men that believed freedom was the right of all men. John Adams hoped that Americans would celebrate this freedom with festivities each year, in a letter to his wife he says:
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
The second of July in 1776 was the day that the committee prepared the Declaration of Independence. Adams believed our independence would be celebrated. Another interesting statistic was that many American’s believe George Washington was one of the 56 delegates. In fact, Washington was busy with a military campaign at the time and not involved. He was an American Revolutionary war hero that, due to his popularity, became the first American president in 1787. Shortly thereafter, was instrumental in drafting the U.S. Constitution.
Each year Cannon Beach hauls out the tinsels and fanfare for the most celebrated day of the year, The Cannon Beach Parade. As I child I remember hugging the curb of downtown Hemlock waiting for the parade, or more likely, the candy. Because fireworks aren’t allowed in Cannon Beach it has had parades, music, and barbeques that can’t be missed! John Adams may not have realized when writing to his wife, Abigail, how we would be celebrating our independence, but he certainly had a grand idea. So, this year take a moment to share the history of our country with your children, nieces or nephews, and your grandchildren. Don’t forget Independence Day is not only about community and family, but a day celebrating a pretty phenomenal event in our nation’s history.
To listen to Cannon Beach History Center’s oral history treasures or for more information, visit the History Center Thursday through Monday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.