I wanted to blog about the Fourth of July for many reasons; mainly because as I look to past Fourth's I am reminded that America has seen better times; however in retrospect it has also seen worse times. As we reflect on this year's happenings, let us all remember that what we face today, was nothing to what the Founding Father's faced in their time.
Below is a speech I wrote and presented at the Fireworks Celebration on July 4th, 2006.
To the citizens of Sunnyside, Washington, July 4th, 2006, Fireworks Celebration
by Jim Restucci, Mayor Pro Tem, Sunnyside City Council
Standing before you this evening – I feel compelled to quote Thomas Jefferson who said, “Speeches measured by the hour … die by the hour.” I am also reminded of my wife's frequent observation that no one ever comes away from listening to a speech saying, “That was great … but I wish it had been longer.”
So, in acknowledgment of the wisdom of Mr. Jefferson – as well as the insightfulness of Mrs. Restucci – my message to you will be brief and to the point.
Freedom and independence mean so much too so many people, that it would be hard for me to sum it up in just a few words. However, I believe that this day is more than just a celebration of freedom and independence; it is a celebration of the American Spirit.
It is the one day that America comes together to recognize the extraordinary success of a bold experiment in democracy. We celebrate not only an idea that captured the imagination of a people ready to make a new country, but also the birth of an ideal that serves as an inspiration to people throughout the world.
Americans from all walks of life spend this holiday with family and friends enjoying cookouts, parades and fireworks. But it is also important for us to pause and reflect on the unlikely cause of this celebration.
It is important for us to revisit the uniqueness of our American spirit. This trait is a gift we can renew throughout the year at various milestones, but especially on this holiday.
In 1776, the representatives to the Second Continental Congress achieved consensus after much debate and voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence. They knew the historic importance of their actions on that fourth day of July.
That same day, in Philadelphia, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, predicting that the Declaration of Independence would be celebrated by succeeding generations as a great anniversary festival.
He envisioned the day being commemorated with pomp, parades, shows, games, sports, guns, bells and bonfires — from one end of the continent to the other. Pretty optimistic thinking, when you consider that those early Americans did not inhabit much of the continent, including where I stand today.
The actions of the Founding Fathers on July Fourth had no precedence in world history. In fact, their efforts came close to failing on many fronts. Debates among the states were monumental. Were it not for brilliant negotiating, the whole motion for independence could very easily have failed.
Those of you who have seen the film “The Patriot,” probably gained a new appreciation for what a close call the whole American Revolution was. Our young nation came close to losing the war against the world's mightiest army. The Continental Army was short on everything except what mattered most–leadership. Without the superb leadership of patriots such as General George Washington, this land would have one less holiday to celebrate today.
Speaking of leadership, the collection of talented public servants who rose to the occasion during this time was truly remarkable. These men and their families risked fortunes, reputations — and invited a trip to the gallows — to make this experiment called America work.
The new American spirit was also contagious. The French general Lafayette, who fought with the Americans, was so taken by the birth of the new nation that when he returned to France, he took with him American soil so that he could one day be buried in it.
Now let’s fast forward 50 years to July 4, 1826. Thomas Jefferson passes away at the age of 83 in his Monticello, Virginia, home. He had recently written about the significance of the 50th anniversary of Independence Day, stating that this day should forever refresh the awareness of our rights and our undiminished devotion to them.
Meanwhile in Quincy, Massachusetts, the 90-year-old John Adams lay on his deathbed. Both gentlemen had been ailing but held out to see just one more Independence Day. Jefferson died first on that final Fourth of July, but Adams hadn't known that when he exclaimed “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Both men witnessed the success of their experiment in democracy.
If we didn't know better, we would think this was fodder for literature. Just like the old saying “Truth is stranger than fiction,” the origin of our nation — of the American Spirit — is truly extraordinary.
In the book, Founding Brothers published by Joseph Ellis, Dr. Ellis sums up the significance of our celebration today with these words: “No event in American history which was so improbable at the time has seemed so inevitable in retrospect as the American Revolution.”
While it is easy to take our freedoms for granted, a day in the shoes of the thousands of our men and women deployed so far from home provides the sobering lesson that freedom is not free.
Let me tell you what I have learned from this day – it has taught me a great deal. But first and foremost, it has taught me that opportunity always comes accompanied by obligations.
Each of us, of course, must answer for ourselves what obligations come with opportunity. However, in my life I have found that every opportunity I have encountered has implied three fundamental obligations.
The first obligation implied in opportunity is that you must seize opportunity. You must reach out to the opportunity … take it in your hands … and mold it into a work that brings value to society.
To do otherwise is not only a waste … it is a crime against the human spirit.
The second obligation that naturally follows opportunity is that you must live it … you must carry opportunity on your back all day long … you must sense the opportunity in your nostrils with every breath, and you must see it in your dreams.
Even though opportunity – much like freedom itself – is born only out of ideals … it can only be nurtured by action. Without action, opportunity and freedom shrivel and fade.
Finally, the third obligation that inherently comes with opportunity is that you must defend it. Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And, yes – from time to time – that is unfortunately and painfully true. .
But the tree of liberty must also be irrigated – every single day – with sweat from the brows of enterprising men and women … men and women working hard to further prove the inherent superiority of a democratic society … working hard to preserve the sanctity of private property … working hard to continue to show the world that people can indeed be trusted with governing themselves. And, as it has been said, men and women working hard to put the interests of our nation ahead of their own personal interests.
To my mind, those are the three obligations we owe opportunity.
They are simple. They are undeniable. They are demanding. And, most of all, they are yours and mine to embrace … or to reject.
Opportunity … ours to seize … ours to live … and ours to defend. Or otherwise – ultimately – ours to lose.
Like many of you here tonight, I know what it's like to lose what has taken many years to build. And just like you, I refuse to suffer through that kind of loss ever again.
And so, I challenge each person here tonight and every other citizen of Sunnyside – to embrace your individual obligations as if the fate of the United States depended on it.
Thank you, and God Bless America!
Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed it.
Let us remember that although America may be feeling blue, and she may have had it's sons' and daughters run red, the white will always remind us that freedom is not dead.
And as we celebrate our holiday this weekend with our families, let us not forget the words of the famous author, Father Dennis O'Brien, USMC:
It is the soldier, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier,
who salutes the flag,
who serves under the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.
-Father Dennis O'Brien, USMC
Regards and have a safe and happy Fourth of July!