On this July 4th, I’m reading Authentic Patriotism by Stephen P. Kiernan. You should too. Here’s Kiernan about the origins of this very day, 243 years ago:
The colonists rebelled not only to free themselves from the yoke of British rule but also in order to reject the stratification of British society. They fought to bring to life one of the Enlightenment’s highest ideals: a new and nobler definition of what a human being is.
According to progressive thinkers of the eighteenth century, people did not need to bow to someone whose sole claim to superiority over them was birth… In the New World, in other words, merit alone would count. A man should advance not because of which family he was born into I but by virtue of his intellect, character, exertion, and luck.
Kiernan writes about what transpired in the spring of 1776 in New York Habor:
There George Washington and the fledgling colonial army had gathered after an unexpected victory in Boston. At the time the colonies did not possess a navy, not even a single ship. To demonstrate his power, the king sent warships to New York that May and June, foremost among them the sixty-four gun HMS Asia. Soon the British added two fifty-gun ships, the Centurion and Chatham, then the Phoenix with its forty guns, next the thirty-gun Greyhound with an army general aboard. These ships also bore tens of thousands of troops. The king then added the Rose, as well as the Eagle-another sixty-four-gun ship, this one commanded by the fearsome Admiral Lord Richard Howe. Colonists spied five lore ships arriving one day, eight another, twenty another. By late June the harbor and its outer reaches were crammed with some four hundred ships, including seventy-three warships and eight ships of the line with fifty or more guns each. It was the largest military force ever dispatched by any nation on earth.
And what did the colonists do that July? How did they reply to his terrifying display of power and glory?
They declared their independence. They cataloged their grievances, explained their reasons, and announced their permanent separation from Great Britain. The bonds were dissolved, the ropes that tied the colonists to the monarchy permanently cut.
It was not mere impudence that this act of rebellion displayed. It was character. It was determination. The king had failed to realize that every step he took to suppress the colonists, to intimidate them, to reinforce their inferiority, only invigorated their growing conception of what a human being is.