Thoughts of the 4th: I feel America slipping away

Terry Garlock's picture

This 4th of July will be my 60th. With each passing year, it seems, I grow more troubled at how little the average American knows, or seems to care, about the birth of our country celebrated on that holiday.

Maybe the problem has several parts, like school boards that select history books aligned with their own political attitudes, or pro-American overtones in the classroom giving way to moral equivalence, or softening demands on our students on the depth of history they study. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think so.

Studying history tends to fool us anyway. When kids read about historical events, people involved and dates of major change, it almost seems inevitable that is the way things were meant to happen. But the truth is major shifts in human events are often pushed one way or another by a few determined souls while the majority remain comfortably at rest in the status quo, insulating themselves from risk.

And so it was that the birth of America was a most improbable event in which a rag-tag, makeshift, underfunded crowd took on the mightiest military machine the western world had ever known at the time, and won. It is the principles leading to that fight that I worry about losing.

For the first 150 years, Britain’s colonies in America had been independent of each other. Colonists considered themselves loyal British subjects, citizens of the Crown, living in self-reliance and freedom. The colonies were each managed by local governors appointed by Britain and had their own legislature for local laws and taxation to fund their local government.

The trouble built slowly. Here are a few high points. In 1763 King George III prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians, and over the next decade there would be one British provocation after another.

The Sugar Act increased taxes on imported sugar and other items to raise funds to send to England. The Currency Act prohibited the colonists from issuing any legal tender paper money, uniting the industrial northern and southern agricultural colonies for the first time in opposition as their economies were threatened. The Stamp Act taxed all printed materials including newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and even playing cards. The Quartering Act required colonists to open their homes to British troops and supply them with food.

The colonists were furious and began to organize resistance. When the Stamp Act went into effect, commerce came to a halt as colonists refused to buy the stamps. Violence erupted and boycotts of English goods spread.

The Townshend Revenue Act imposed a new series of taxes on colonial imports such as paper, tea, glass, lead and paints. Samuel Adams called for the colonists to unite in their actions against the British government. The British dissolved colonial courts and would soon disband colonial legislatures.

In September 1768, Boston residents were urged to arm themselves. Later that month, English warships sailed into Boston Harbor, delivering two regiments of English infantry for permanent residence in Boston to keep order. Boston colonists were required to provide them with food and shelter, raising simmering anger to a boil. British plans to send American agitators to England for trial made resentment worse.

In March 1770, a Boston mob harassed British soldiers who then fired their muskets into the crowd, killing three instantly, mortally wounding two others and injuring six, an incident known as the Boston Massacre.

In 1773 the Tea Act imposed an import tax on tea and gave a monopoly advantage to the British East India Company over American merchants. Boston colonial activists disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians on a nighttime raid to dump hundreds of containers of tea from ships into the harbor, an event known as the Boston Tea Party.

An angry English Parliament passed a long series of punitive measures, and conflict escalated. The colonists, who had never before acted in concert, formed the First Continental Congress in 1774 and met in Philadelphia with 56 delegates. When they began their debate on how to petition the king with their grievances, fighting the crown for independence was not even a remote consideration; that would come later, after more pressure and bitterness. But the Congress did proclaim that oppressive British edicts were not to be obeyed, promoted the formulation of local militias and asserted the natural rights of colonists included the rights to “life, liberty and property.”

The colonists did not want a war. To many of them, the very idea was treasonous. But they were unwavering in demanding liberty while Britain continued piling on punitive measures. War was inevitable.

In April of 1775, Massachusetts Governor General Gage led 700 British soldiers to Concord, Mass., to destroy the colonists’ weapons depot. That night, Paul Revere made his famous ride to warn colonists of the approaching British and arrived in Lexington about midnight.

At dawn the next morning about 70 armed Massachusetts militiamen stood facing the British advance guard on Lexington Green. In this first skirmish of the American Revolution, eight Americans died and 10 were wounded. One redcoat was wounded. War was unleashed.

The Continental Congress appointed George Washington as general to lead the Continental army, an untrained, undisciplined, under-equipped and unpaid rabble that had the impossible job of fighting the British war machine.

Over five years, Washington led with extraordinary courage, riding high in the saddle through musket and cannon fire time after time, through a long series of defeats and retreats while Congress failed time and again to deliver food, weapons, ammunition and pay for the men. Finally, almost impossibly, they won.

While much of the population shielded themselves with neutrality, prepared to cast their cowardly lot with either side that won, the small number of dedicated men and women who made this happen against all odds had risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. And for what? Liberty. Self-determination. Free enterprise without suffocating government interference.

When these patriots wrote our constitution, with its amendments, they feared most the centralization of power, and accordingly they took careful steps to limit the power of the federal government. They defined a few discrete federal powers and reserved all others to the people and the states. The very idea that the federal government would take care of them in some way would have been laughable.

How far we have come.

What was won by people who risked everything for an ideal, what we inherited at birth but cannot tear ourselves away from American Idol to appreciate, the freedom and opportunity envied by the world, is slowly slipping away, each increment sold in exchange for new goodies promised by the latest crowd in control of Washington.

And the federal government’s fingers continue to grow and reach into every crevice of our lives. With each new federal power grab, I feel America slipping away.

This 4th of July, I will remember those who risked it all, put my pessimism aside just for a day, and when the honor guard passes with the flag, I will be on my feet with hand over heart while some will ignore the flag, remain seated and continue their chatter.

I predict next year I will have good reason to be more grumpy still. And I used to wonder why old people were grouchy.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City. His email is]

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Robert W. Morgan's picture
Submitted by Robert W. Morgan on Tue, 06/23/2009 - 7:25pm.

I will hug you (again) if I see you on the 4th.

I'm touring James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams through Peachtree City on the 4th. I would invite more of the Founders, but Adams takes up so much space on the golf cart, you know.

Of course my tour with some of the Founding Fathers is just a dream, but you might ask yourself what they would see and what they would say about it and what you would show them.

Let's start here:

Cars and golf carts -- OK good invention

Large houses with AC --- Why does anyone need that much space?

Indoor plumbing-----best thing ever

TV --- not so good. What are they talking about and why do they interrupt each other all the time?

Restaurants ---- Good food. Big prices. Where are the wenches?

Senate ---- Who are these clowns and what do they do? We thought they would be appointed by the States, not elected by by popular vote.

10- term Congressmen ------ 1 term is enough. Go home and do something productive.

10-term Congresswomen------ who is she and why is she here? Nancy Pelosi is in charge of the House of Representatives? How could that happen?

Pelosi is #2 in the line of secession to President---------- How did that happen?

Women voters ----- why do women vote? They don't contribute to the economy, they just raise children. (That was Jefferson, not me. Jefferson was always a sexist pig. Good writer though)

Octomom getting a TV show -------- Madison had a heart attack and died again.

Income tax approaching 50%-------- Give power back to the states and stop medelllng

National health care------The kids and grandkids should handle the care of elders, not the government.

Prezbo being wimpy on Iran------Jefferson heard the audio from the bathroom and shouted "Grow a pair, you wimp" Then he came out and saw the video (of Prezbo) and died of a heart attack (again). To his credit he did say "Sally, this is the big one" before he died.

That left Adams and even though I promised him we would meet Terry at the fireworks event, he stole a horse and rode off into the sunset. I think he said "So long Suckers", but I'm not sure.

Submitted by ptcjenn on Thu, 06/25/2009 - 9:10am.

I disagree that they would wonder 'why so big' on local houses. Take a look at what everyone built back in their day, I'm betting Monticello is bigger by a long shot than most of the houses here.

No, their reaction would be 'Where do you grow all the food?!?'

mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Tue, 06/23/2009 - 4:21pm.

A lot of old people I know are quite cheerful. They enjoy the benefits of retirement income through Social Security, which Dubya failed to destroy with his private account plan, and also of Medicare, which helps provide affordable health care.

It is true that Dubya also failed to protect many of our people from the loss of pensions (through failing businesses) and investments (through market value declines in their pension accounts and the value of their homes), and from scammers like Bernie Madoff. And also from the loss of jobs, which are essential to having an income and building up savings. But there is a new sheriff in town now, and with him a new sense of optimism.

Finally, we’ll have affordable health care for everybody. Finally, we will keep our financial institutions from failing. Finally, we’ll protect consumers from financial abuse and fraud. And we have a fighting chance of restoring jobs in our economy.

There is nothing wrong with the U.S. Constitution. It was written before we had automobiles, telephones, televisions and airplanes. We obviously need a set of instructions to make all that stuff work without chaos, and these instructions are known as federal laws.

There’s nothing wrong with that. No need to be grouchy. Celebrate the Fourth with pride still!

Submitted by lion on Wed, 06/24/2009 - 4:13pm.

Mapleleaf: Thanks for your intelligent and thoughtful posts. It is always refreshing to find a rational voice on this site. Please keep it up.

Garlock; Relax. The United States of America and our Constitution are doing just fine. Just because everyone does not agree with your conservative image of America does not indicate a lack of patriotism. We just disagree. Peaceful disagreement makes for a vibrant democracy.

On July 4th there will be many families celebrating here in Peachtree City. Many agree with you politically. But I and others do not. Nevertheless we will wave our American flags with joy because our country has continued to grow and mature. A wide majority of Americans has elected the first African-American to be our President. We will soon have the first Hispanic woman on the U. S. Supreme Court. Certainly these are developments we should be proud of. And they offer reasons to be optimistic about our future.

And not everyone shares your dismal opinion of the Federal Government. To many of us the Federal Government has been and can be in the future a force for good. Civil rights, voting rights, cleaner air, cleaner water, Social Security, Medicare, etc. are good things and were only possible because of action at the Federal level.

So Garlock, enjoy this 4th of July and do not despair. We will all celebrate Independence Day.

S. Lindsey's picture
Submitted by S. Lindsey on Wed, 06/24/2009 - 3:15pm.

about what has made America GREAT and about what is tearing it down..

Your comments on the Constitution, how jobs are created and lost in a Free Market Society proves this.. and I have asked you this before..JUST WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR ALL THAT FREE you say Affordable HEALTHCARE YOU LIKE SO MUCH??

"When the person who in possession of a government, shall say to a nation, I hold this power in 'contempt' of you, it signifies not on what authority he pretends to say it is..but an aggravation to a person in slavery"..Thomas Paine

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 06/24/2009 - 5:31pm.

Maple doesn't think that new workers paying into Social Security are paying for the benefits of the previous workers and it's all a magical system that can go on indefinitely.

Pension plans failing due to businesses going under being the President's fault is a new one I haven't heard. Of course, there isn't any examples of Bush policies that made businesses fail, but that's just a minor detail.

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