By Freeholder Lillian Burry (as prepared for delivery to the Borough of Avon’s July 4th ceremony)
Hello and thank you for having me here today. With the Fourth of July at hand, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the meaning of that day in American History and the cause of liberty that makes it special. The fourth is the celebration of the founding of our nation and the ideals on which that founding was based.
When we think of the American Revolution we do not think of any single place or person or act more than the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. And we recall those powerful words with which our founding fathers bound themselves together and we remember the great men who put their names to them. “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor”.
While that was a singular event, there were many other moments that led up to and followed along after it that also embodied the same spirit of American freedom. We must remember that this was a revolution that rose from the people of the thirteen colonies, each with its own leaders and prominent voices. All were inspired and united with a spirit best remembered in the work of Thomas Paine. Our second President, John Adams, wrote “Without the pen of the author of “Common Sense” the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Over a year before the Declaration of Independence, in March of 1775, Patrick Henry spoke those famous words “Give me liberty or give me death”, before the Virginia Convention that included leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and led to the arming of the Virginia militia. Henry was a lawyer and planter as well as a politician and orator.
The patriotic spirit was not limited to the great leaders of the day alone. In 1776 a young man was captured while on a spying mission in New York and hanged by the British. His last words are still remembered today “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” He was Nathan Hale of Connecticut and he was just 21 years old.
The truth is that the love yearning for liberty and love of country was rooted in people of every colony, age and station in life. Some were farmers, some were merchants and lawyers and doctors, others led humbler lives but all were united by the same simple desire to be free to govern themselves in a country they could call their own. This is a desire that is still strong today and is alive around the world.
Here at home we still have a patriotic duty. It is one that we can do every day. Democracy is a form of government that is only as good as the people who lead it and one that flourishes best in the bright light of public scrutiny. We should all remember these words often attributed to Thomas Jefferson “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.
The challenge is to strike a balance between government that is doing good and government that is doing too much. We should remember the words of Henry David Thoreau in his work “Civil Disobedience”. “That government is best which governs least.” Perhaps the ultimate act of patriotism today is to take responsibility for ourselves – to govern our own lives individually and with our neighbors and with our community.
In closing, I believe that patriotism – the love of country and love of freedom – is not only something to think of as a relic of history. It is not something to be left only to founders like Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton. It is something to be lived every day by ordinary people in the conduct of our everyday lives. We do it by knowing our government. Knowing our laws and the rights guaranteed to us under those laws and speaking up and speaking out when we see actions that limit our just freedoms. We do it by questioning and we do it by voting. We do it by serving on boards and committees and we do it by keeping ourselves informed. Democracy works for all of us only when we all do our part. That’s what the people who started this great nation did and we should do no less. Thank you.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!