FRANKFORT – While the calendar tells us that summer technically began about two weeks ago, the truth is that it feels like the season is halfway over by the Fourth of July, since that is roughly the mid-point between school years.
Our country’s “birthday,” of course, is one of the first history lessons our students learn. We declared our independence 242 years ago this week, when we formally decided we no longer thought of ourselves as 13 colonies but a nation in our own right.
Not everyone thought the Fourth would be remembered as prominently as it is today. Founding Father John Adams believed July 2, 1776, was more important, since that was the day the Second Continental Congress actually voted to break away from Great Britain. July 4th was when the Declaration was adopted.
Although his prediction was wrong, that doesn’t diminish the outsized role he played in our country’s early history. Among many other things, he was the chief advocate for having Thomas Jefferson serve as principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and those two men were the only ones to sign it who would become president. (George Washington was away at the time leading the Continental Army.)
Interestingly, both Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other on a fourth of July – exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was approved.
Kentucky may still have been part of Virginia when the Revolutionary War was fought, but the commonwealth does have a links to that era.
The Battle of Blue Licks in Robertson County, for example, is considered by many to be the last major skirmish of that war. Although our victory was already secure by that time, the battle did carry a high price. Daniel Boone’s son Israel was among the casualties, as were Colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg, whom Kentucky honored by naming two of its counties after them.
In more recent times, Kentucky played a role in protecting the Declaration of Independence during World War II. Because our leaders wanted it to be more secure – and away from a potential attack on Washington, D.C. – the historical document was taken first to Louisville in 1941 and then to Fort Knox, where it stayed until being returned in 1944.
While each fourth of July is set aside as a celebration of freedom, it is also a time to remember all who have sacrificed their time, talents and even their lives and limbs to make that freedom possible.
Kentucky has a long history of doing more than her fair share. In addition to those serving in the Armed Forces, we also have more than 300,000 veterans who call the Commonwealth home, which is about one in 10 adults overall.
With them in mind, a Kentuckian was posthumously honored last week with the Medal of Honor, the highest personal military award our country gives. Lieutenant Garlin Murl Conner, a Clinton County native, was recognized for his heroism during World War II, and his wife was there at the White House to accept the medal on his behalf.
As we remember those like Lieutenant Conner who served our nation with distinction and the Founding Fathers who set our country on its course, it is good to recall the words of President Kennedy during his remarks at Independence Hall in Philadelphia 56 years ago.
“The theory of independence is as old as man himself, and it was not invented in this hall,” he said. “But it was in this hall that the theory became practice; that the word went out to all, in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, that ‘the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.’”
At its core, that is what the Fourth of July represents and what our country has fought to preserve. It’s something to think about as we enjoy the fourth’s fireworks and festivities.
I hope you and your family have an enjoyable holiday.