- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Celebrate now

Quick, light a Roman candle.

Independence Day should actually be celebrated today.

Not to rewrite history here, but July 2, 1776, is the actual day that the Continental Congress voted for independence.

“John Adams, in his writings, even noted that July 2 would be remembered in the annals of American history and would be marked with fireworks and celebrations,” say historians at the National Archives.

Sure, the written Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, but the signing didn’t commence until Aug. 2. Although 56 delegates eventually put their signatures on the document — its first draft was written by Thomas Jefferson and was edited by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin — they weren’t all present that August day.

John Hancock became the first to sign the declaration with a large hand right in the middle of the document, and he had every right to be so grand because he was president of the Congress. It is thought that Thomas McKean of Delaware was the final person to sign, although when Congress authorized the first printing of the declaration in January 1777, McKean’s name wasn’t there.

“He signed after that date, or the printer made a mistake by omitting him,” historians speculate.

Today, the original declaration is protected every way known to man. But like other parchment documents of its day, it initially was stored in a rolled format.

“Each time the document was used, it would have been unrolled and re-rolled,” the historians say. “It likely traveled by light wagon and by horseback with the Continental Congress in its early years. When it was first brought to Washington, it traveled by boat, down the Delaware River and bay, out into the ocean, into the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac to the new capital city.”

There was the one time since — during World War II — that the declaration was moved by Pullman train to Louisville, Ky., then transferred under armed guard to Fort Knox for safe keeping.

Salute Ned

This Sunday, the Fourth of July, the National Archives will lead the nation in celebrating the 228th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, doing so in grand style with a dramatic reading by “General George Washington” and special performance by the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry “Old Guard” Fife and Drum Corps.

The father of our country, or at least his modern-day version, will start reading at 10 a.m. Best viewing seats will be on the Constitution Avenue steps, available on a first-come, first-seated basis (we recommend a cushion).

Afterward, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., one can view the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a cast of American Historical Theatre playing figures of 1776 — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and soldier Ned Hector.

Ned who?

Ned Hector was a black patriot, a private in the 3rd Pennsylvania Artillery Regiment who became famous during the Sept. 11, 1777, “Battle of Brandywine” in Chadds Ford, Pa. On that bloody day, he refused to allow his team and wagon to fall into the hands of the British invaders.

“I will save the horses or perish myself,” he was heard to shout during a retreat from battle.

Living in a cabin after the war, Hector — who lived to be 90 — had to battle the U.S. government to receive a wartime service pension of $40, which was eventually granted as a “gratuity.”

It’s worth noting that the League of Women Voters also will be on hand at the Archives on Sunday to help those wishing to register to vote.

Losing liberty?

Taking the term Independence Day at face value, Americans for Free Choice in Medicine is challenging patriotic Americans to restore the proper meaning to the Fourth of July.

“The best way to celebrate Independence Day is to understand that we must counter the seduction of dependence on government, which robs us of our liberty,” says Richard E. Ralston, the group’s executive director.

He says Americans are becoming dependent on government and employer-sponsored health care, which he said many wrongly regard as a right. He reminds Americans that the nation was founded on individual rights, not entitlements.

Mr. Ralston’s group favors free-market ideas, such as tax-free health savings accounts and tax reform.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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