by: Jerry Welch
Though the signing of
the Declaration of Independence was not completed until August, the 4th of July
is accepted as the official birthday of the United States. The first Independence
Day celebration took place the following year, July 4th 1777 and by the early
1800's parades, picnics and fireworks became the traditional way of celebrating
the miracle that took place in Philadelphia two hundred thirty one years ago.
In 1893, Fredrick Jackson Turner composed an essay entitled, The Significance
of the Frontier in American History. He argued the most important effect of the
frontier in American history was the promotion of democracy and the development
of the American character. Turner and other historians argue that America was
forged into existence by the long rifle, broad-axe and bold self confidence.
In addition to celebrating July 4th in the traditional manner, view the following
films that shed light on how America came to be. The long rifle, broad-axe and
the desire for self-rule are the common themes running deep in both films. I
am suggesting a non traditional but entertaining way of enjoying America's birthday.
The first film, The Last of The Mohicans was released in 1992 and is based on
the novel by James Fenimore Cooper. The movie is set 1757, during the French
and Indian Wars when Americans were bound by law to aid the British armies fighting
the French for control of the colonies. The film opened to wide acclaim with
critics praising it for cinematography and music. In one scene, a British officers
barks, "And who empowered these provincials to pass judgment upon England's
policies in her own colonies? To come and go without so much as a, "by your
leave." The heroine Cora, with anger rising retorts loudly, "They
do not live their lives, "by your leave." They hack it out ot the wilderness
with their own two hands, burying their dead and children along the way." Thru
Cora, you catch a fiery spark of the American character that led to the revolution
and Declaration of Independence.
another scene, Cora asks Hawkeye what of European culture did he dislike. He
answers, "Monarchy. Many wrong ideas about the government of men. My
fathers people already know each man is his own nation. And only he can have
dominion over himself. Not kings. No man is better than any other man." John
Adams, 2nd President of the United States(1797-1801)wrote in 1818, "the
revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the
minds and hearts of the people." The underlying message in The Last of
the Mohicans are the very observations offered by President Adams.
film, 1776, is a musical drama about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Released in 1972, it never found an audience as the Vietnam War was raging
and patriotism not in vogue. Film goers were not receptive to historical figures
like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson bursting into song.
It is an underrated film and one of the few that teaches about the birth of
the United States.
The film opens on June 8, 1776, a sweltering hot day in
Philadelphia. John Adams is shown to be outspoken, egotistical and one of the
most hated men in Congress. Franklin is shown to be aging and sleeping during
many of the debates. Jefferson is described as, "Virginias greatest lover." One
plot synopsis states: 'in the days leading up to July 4, 1776, Continental
Congressman John Adams and Benjamin Franklin coerce Thomas Jefferson into writing
the Declaration of Independence as a delaying tactic as they try to persuade
the American colonies to support a resolution on independence. As George Washington
sends depressing messages describing one military disaster after another, the
businessmen, landowners and slave holders in Congress all stand in the way
of the Declaration, and a single, "nay" vote will forever end the
question of independence. Large portions of spoken and sung dialog are taken
directly from the letters and memoirs of the actual participants."
War of 1812, is viewed as the United State's second war of independence because
like the Revolutionary War, was fought against Great Britain. Following victory,
never again was America' s independence seriously challenged. At the end of
hostilities, a French diplomat commented, "the war has given the Americans
what they so essentially lacked, a national character."
The War of 1812
also gave America a national anthem. Francis Scot Key, lawyer and amateur poet,
peering through heavy cannon smoke saw an enormous flag flying after a 25 hour
bombardment of Fort McHenry. The sight was so inspiring he wrote a poem later
set to music and ultimately called, the Star Spangled Banner. The last line
of which is; " O'er
the land of the free and home of the brave!"
Take time to watch those
two movies and you will understand more clearly the significance of last line
in our national anthem. If still confused, then watch the films again!