by Tom Lockie
As we all enjoy celebrating the birth of our nation, it’s a good time to reflect on the sacrifices made along the way to insure our freedom. For as we all know, “Freedom isn’t free”.
How It All Began
In the sweltering summer heat of 1776, 56 brave men defied British rule and signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. This document became our nation’s birth certificate. Much has been made of the demise of those 56, but further research has debunked as fiction the myths handed down through the ages. True, some of the 56 were devastated by family tragedies, bankruptcies, disease, and just plain bad luck. Most came through unscathed, yet all felt at great personal risk until the war’s end.
Happy August 2nd Instead……Wait, What?
Funny thing about history over the years—it’s been scrubbed, spit-shined, and unfortunately dumbed-down, for a plethora of reasons.
The idea of a Declaration of Independence was conceived on June 7, 1776 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Heated debate ensued, with the Continental Congress doing what we’ve all become familiar with—they postponed the vote until July. A committee was formed (sound familiar?) and given the task of writing the document.
The committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. In the end, Jefferson carried most of the water. Debate began at the end of June, and by July 1st only nine colonies supported the document. By the time a vote was taken on July 2nd, twelve of the thirteen colonies voted in favor, with New York abstaining due to waiting for “permission to vote yes”. The document was adopted on July 4th, but only 2 men signed that day—John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Finally, by August 2, 1776, most of the fifty-six had signed the document. The last signer didn’t pen his name to the document until 1781! With the date July 4, 1776 emblazoned across the top of the document, July 4th stuck as the “official” date.
Our republic was built by several noteworthy documents and wars and by many patriots. Whether or not each knew ahead of time, their life’s work became forging a republic, often facing fractured elements across the land.
Important Historical Documents
Many historical documents have molded our nation besides the Declaration of Independence. Each has a backdrop of turmoil, strife, and untold personal sacrifice woven into its passage. These include:
The Constitution (1791), often called the Bill of Rights
The Louisiana Purchase (1803)
The Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) brought with it the official end of slavery
The 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution (1870 and 1920 respectively) gave most Americans the right to vote
The Social Security Act (1935)
The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act (1944), better known as the GI Bill, ushered in the economic boom of the 1950’s
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) made segregation unconstitutional
The Civil Rights Act (1964)
Wars Molding America
We cannot consider the shaping of America without considering the wars we’ve found ourselves in, whether by choice or not. These include:
The American Revolution (1775-1783) ~ 31,000 “Americans” lost their lives
More than 12 major Indian wars (1776-1924)
The Quasi War (1798-1800) brought the end of French privateering on American merchant shipping
The Barbary Wars (1801-1805 and 1815) brought to an end privateering of American merchant shipping in the Mediterranean
The War of 1812 (1812-1815) stopped the British military invasion of America ~ 15,000 Americans lost their lives
The Texas Revolution (1835-1836) created an independent Texas and led to its subsequent annexation by America in 1845
The Mexican American War (1846-1848) allowed America to annex Texas and California ~ 13,283 Americans lost their lives
The Civil War (1861-1865) ~ 655,000 total lives lost on both sides
The Spanish-American War (1898) ~ 2,446 American lives lost
World War I (1917-1918) ~ 116,516 Americans lost
World War II (1941-1945) ~ 405,399 Americans lost
The Korean War (1950-1953) ~ 36,516 American lives lost
The Vietnam War (1955-1975) ~ 58,220 American lives lost
The Gulf Wars (1990-1991 and 1991-2003) ~ 148 Americans lost
Wars in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo (1992-1995 and 1988-1989) ~ 30 Americans lost
The Post 9-11 War on Terror (including Afghanistan and Iraq 2001-2022) ~ 7,075 Americans lost
A Pause for Reflection
Yes, it’s a long list of human strife and the numbers of those who made the ultimate sacrifice are staggering. 1,340,597—let that sink in. This list doesn’t include the numerous other wars, campaigns, skirmishes and black ops our nation has been involved in over the last 246 years, since before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Don’t construe this as a political statement; it’s just math.
One thing’s for sure, our country has faced some enormous challenges over the years and will continue to do so. The common thread is the resilience of the American people, be they soldier, sailor, flyer, patriot, citizen-soldier, farmer, or caregiver. Our democracy is a messy and beautiful thing. It’s both the envy and pariah of many a nation. I’ll take it any day over the various forms of government existing today, from hideous to exemplary.
So as you fire up the grill over the holiday weekend, take a moment before those burgers and dogs start to burn and think about what it means to be an American and all it has taken to get us where we stand today. It has been a long road, and by the grace of God and the combined efforts of every citizen, we will persevere. Look around and reconnect with your neighbor, be they Democrat or Republican, for as the saying goes—united we stand, divided we fall. And by all means, let’s remember that, truly, “Freedom isn’t free”.
“Signing Their Lives Away” by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D’Agnese
The United States Air Force Academy History Department – for their training, mentoring, and for conferring on me a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Military History
Tom Lockie is the Transportation and Travel Editor for the Citizens Journal Florida. A veteran and recently retired airline Captain, Tom considers aviation and travel his ongoing passions . Tom is a published author, featured in the USA Today for his children’s book “Come Fly with Me“.