Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day: A Slight Refresher Course in the Events that Changed the World

Happy Birthday, USA. Another  Independence Day when we stop commerce, close the Stock Market, hit the beaches, go to baseballs games, gather in backyards for the very idea of our Declaration of Independence.

It's the anniversary of our legal separation from Great Britain, but not the anniversary of our independence—though we call it that—because we were still fighting the Revolutionary War. There were many points after this legal separation when the tide turned toward a Redcoats victory. It is possible that the Continental Congress would have written and adopted the masterpiece that is

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 

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.

but it would have been no more than a poetic moment and not the start of a nation that has meant a great deal to so many if the brave farmers and craftsmen who fought hadn't won. And the odds were definitely stacked against the rebels, as Wiki so succinctly puts it:

The Americans began the war with significant disadvantages compared to the British. They had no national government, no national army or navy, no financial system, no banks, no established credit, and no functioning government departments, such as a treasury.

The Revolutionary War went on for a brutal 8 years, 1775 to 1783, marked from the date of the Boston Massacre on April 19, and for us ending with the Siege of Yorktown, when Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781. Fighting continued in Gibraltar and the East and West Indies, reminding us of the international complexities as the war grew, which finally ended on September 3, 1873, with the Treaty of Paris. That other masterpiece, the US Constitution, is adopted on September 17, 1783, and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

I went on a four-hour tour of Revolutionary sites in lower Manhattan, organized by Fraunces Tavern.  They run it in the middle of the night, from 3:00am to 7:00 am, just to make it extra special. The guide paints a picture of lots of history that New Yorkers walk by every day.

Remembering Evacuation Day Hijinx

The last invading, garrisoned British troops left our beloved NYC on November 25, 1783. It's known as Evacuation Day, and was celebrated as a holiday in NY for a century.  Washington would not formally enter the city while any Union Jack was flying. One was seen near the Battery, and when the Patriots went to get it down, they found the Brits had greased the flagpole, and our guys couldn't scrammble to the top to get it down.  The Pats then made a series of cleats to hammer in, and veteran John Van Arsdale got to the top, took down the last British flag, and put up the Stars & Stripes. Enter the victorious George Washington.

The flagpole at Bowling Green, behind the Wall Street Bull, has a plaque commemorating this original Evacuation Day, just another part of hidden New York.