Happy Independence Day! It commemorates (for my non-US readers) the day — July 4, 1776 — that the American colonies claimed their independence from England.
Each year, the US National Archives — which is the keeper of the original Declaration of Independence — holds an Independence Day celebration, the highlight of which is the reading of the Declaration by reenactors portraying various early Americans. And each year, I tell myself — as I do with so many events — that I’m going to attend. Since this could be my last ever 4th of July in DC (you’ll hear more about that at the end of this post), I made an extra effort to get there.
There was music starting at 9 and the Declaration reading starting at 10. I took an empty subway train to the Archives subway stop (it doesn’t get any more convenient than that). The Archives building is directly across the street.
There was seating on the wide, sweeping stone steps that lead up to the front door of the Archives. At 8:30, it was already about half full but I got the perfect place: toward the center of the very top row of the peasant area (the stairs were roped off at a certain point, and only those who donate $1000 or more a year to the Archives Foundation — i.e. not me — were allowed above it). The other nice thing about sitting on the stairs: while a vast crowd eventually accumulated in the street, the stairs never got crowded. I sat next to a solitary older woman who turned out to be a tourist from southwestern England (just next to Wales! she said) and we owned that top row.
At 9:00 exactly, a band called the Brass Connection started things off with a jazzy version of Bill Withers’ Lean on Me. I love that New Orleans jazzy brass sound and Lean on Me is one of my favorite songs so: squeee!
They played for about 30 minutes, then the US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps came on. The musicians in this unit are all active duty military and playing music is their full-time job. Their uniforms are patterned on those that had been worn by musicians attached to George Washington when he was commander of the Continental Army. I’m a fife and drum groupie so squeee! again.
After the Old Guard came the MC, a news anchor from the local Fox station, to do all the introductions. Since I don’t watch Fox, I had no idea who she was and she seemed a bit superfluous. Then came the Archivist of the United States, to give a welcome speech. Did you know we had a national archivist? Well, we do.
The Archivist mentioned Lafayette in his speech and I swear someone in the crowd sang out, “Lafayette!” a la Hamilton the Musical. In my head, I responded, “Everybody give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman.” At least, I hope it was only in my head. [If you’re unfamiliar with Hamilton the Musical, ignore this entire paragraph.]
Then came the reading of the Declaration of Independence. George Washington started it with “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another ….”
After a few paragraphs, Abigail and Johns Adams picked it up.
Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin took over once they got to the grievances against George III. It was during this segment that we were encourage to huzzah for the patriots and boo the perfidy of King George. There were signs, held aloft, in case we didn’t know which we were supposed to be doing. Even the Englishwoman next to me booed heartily.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. Booo.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. Hey, I’ve had bosses like that. In any case: Booo.
The final segment involved Revolutionary War hero and free African American Ned Hector. Hector was a wagoneer in a Pennsylvania artillery regiment. When the Continentals were losing the Battle of Brandywine and the soldiers were told to abandon guns, wagons and horses and save themselves, Hector was reported to have said, “The enemy shall not have my team; I shall save my horses and myself.” And he did.
Private Hector read out the names of all of the signers of the Declaration. Which means that he got to say Button Gwinnett.
At the end of the program, the public was invited into the Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. With a few hundred thousand of my best friends? No thank you. I went, instead, to watch DC’s 4th of July parade: high school bands, wobbly floats, and local beauty queens. What’s not to love?
So I’ve come to the end of this post, and of all postings for a while. I’m in the process of selling my house and moving to Arizona. It’s not what I would have chosen — DC is the home of my heart — but I have a 90-year-old father in Tucson. He’s doing great but I’ll still feel better when I’m living closer to him.
Everything that isn’t move related will be on a back burner for now. I’ll try to keep up with the History Tourist Facebook and twitter accounts, and hope to be back to blogging in the fall, when I’m settled in Tucson. Meanwhile, I hope you have a fun, safe and history-filled summer.