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Darrell Huckaby: A few powerful words that changed the whole world

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

It was the middle of the summer in Philadelphia. Hot? What are you talking about? Last weekend's record-breaking heat had nothing on Philadelphia during the summer of 1987. We were there on the hottest day in the history of the weather bureau. You can look it up.

It would have been pushing 100 in the shade, had there been any shade. My lovely wife, Lisa, was there against her will and our first -- and at the time, only -- child, Jamie Lee, was still in a stroller and had no say in the matter.

We were waiting in a long, long line to get inside Independence Hall to witness the setting of the signing of our nation's birth certificate -- the Declaration of Independence. The smartest kid in Pennsylvania came by pulling a little red wagon with a cooler full of ice cold Cokes for $2 a shot.

I bought four, and it was the best money I spent on the entire trip.

After two hours in the broiling sun, we finally got inside to see where the whole world had been turned upside down on July 4, 1776. It was worth the wait -- and the effort.

Here's why we stood in the heat for two hours to spend 15 minutes inside an old brick building. This is what had happened.

You see, England had set up about a dozen colonies -- 13 to be exact -- in what they called the "New World." They wanted to boost their economy. You know -- raise raw materials and sell to foreign nations. Buy low. Sell high. Not much different than today. Plus they had all those colonists to tax and otherwise take advantage of. Not much different than today, really. The system worked out pretty well, too -- for a while.

Then old King George III got a bit greedy -- not to mention power-hungry.

One thing led to another -- unfair taxes, high tariffs, trade restrictions. The colonists soon came to realize that their rights as royal subjects were being violated. They didn't even have the same rights as their fellow Englishmen across the pond. A few radicals, like Thomas Paine, John Hancock, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams began stirring up the masses. More stuff happened -- like the Boston Tea Party. More harsh laws. More strong words.

Words. The revolution began with words. Words put together in such a way as to cause people to think about things in an entirely different light. Words spoken with an eloquence and a passion that stirred the emotions of a people and drove them beyond words and ideals. Words convinced the people that principles like liberty and freedom were more important than security and safety.

"Give me liberty or give me death." Seven words.

"Taxation without representation is tyranny." Five words.

"If they mean to have a war, let it begin here." Eleven words.

Words drove the people to action. On a cold April morning a group of farmers and merchants stood on a village green and faced the strongest army in the world. British regulars fired into the crowd and the Americans fled. Seven miles down the road, however, they would not flee. They would turn and fire and chase the unwelcome invaders all the way back to Boston.

Twelve months later, some of the smartest and bravest men this new land -- and the world -- had ever known gathered in Philadelphia, in the very building my fledgling family had waited in the heat to see. These weren't poor, downtrodden peasants with nothing to lose, understand. These were the most successful men the colonies had produced.

These prosperous men met throughout the spring and into the summer of 1776 and debated principles and ideals with little, if any, consideration of their own best interests.

Thomas Jefferson would pen the document they would finally agree to sign. Benjamin Franklin, author, inventor and entrepreneur, whose wit and wisdom held the convention together more than once, was the elder statesman.

"We must all hang together or, assuredly, we will all hang separately." Twelve words.

John Hancock signed the finished document in letters so big King George could read it without his spectacles. Button Gwinnett was one of Georgia's signers. He would die in a duel before the year passed. Richard Henry Lee was a signer. His grandson would fight on a much different field of honor four-score and seven years later.

Samuel Adams. John Adams. George Walton. Lyman Hall. Fifty-six men, in all, pledged to one another their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

"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." Thirty-five very significant words.

These men were signing their own death warrant if their revolution failed. Many of the signers did lose their lives. Others did lose their fortunes. None gave up their sacred honor.

On July 4, 1776, the United States of America, conceived in the blood of Lexington and Concord, was born of words in Philadelphia.

Happy Birthday, USA.

Thank you to our Founding Fathers. I pray that we will not let your grand experiment fail.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.