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Williamsburg on the 4th of July

The Declaration of Independence is read from the Capitol in Williamsburg, Va.
The Declaration of Independence is read from the Capitol in Williamsburg, Va.photo by author

Seven years ago, in 2007, I found myself in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. for the 4th of July. It turned out to be a memorable occasion. It was, indeed, a special 4th.

The day began with a military salute to the 13 original colonies. Each colony was saluted with a round of cannon fire and a military air by the Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps.After the salute, which competed with a church service at the Bruton Parish Church, the action shifted to the opposite end of Duke of Gloucester Street, the main street of Colonial Williamsburg, and the presentation of “Revolutionary City,” a real-time reenactment of events that happened to ordinary citizens. Included in this presentation was a reenactment Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech. It being the 4th of July, the presentation culminated from the balcony of the Capitol with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence in several voices, including several who would not have been heard in 1776 such as women and African-Americans. I must confess, as the words of Jefferson floated over the crowd, tears came to my eyes.

“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That night, a sumptuous picnic was held behind the Governor’s Palace with enough food to last a week! Afterwards, the Fife and Drum Corps arrived to escort us to the preferred seating area on the Palace Green for their spectacular fireworks show.

Spending the 4th in Williamsburg has given me a new appreciation of our country and what it stands for. The highlight was, without question, the reading of the Declaration. While we are all familiar with certain passages, it is rare to hear it read in its entirety. This was one of those occasions. Also, it gave me an appreciation for this experiment in democracy we call America, an experiment that, at the time, was given little hope of succeeding. In that spirit, it only seems right to close with the closing words of Jefferson’s masterpiece:

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

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