As it has for nearly two-and-a-half centuries, our nation pauses tonday to celebrate its “birth” day, commemorating a time 240 years ago when the Founding Fathers declared our independence.
Since July 4, 1776, we have weathered a war for our freedom, a war against ourselves, and wars against those who would like nothing more than to see us and our values falter. Although the world has changed in countless ways since Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, our commitment to protect and promote freedom has never wavered.
Kentucky may not have been one of the 13 original colonies, but as part of Virginia, it did have a part to play in our country’s early years. To begin with, there were several skirmishes during the Revolutionary War, including one of the last, which occurred right in our area: The Battle of Blue Licks in Robertson County.
While that fighting came after the war was largely over, it was still a devastating blow for our early settlers. Among those killed were Colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg – who were later honored by having two of our counties named after them – and Daniel Boone’s son Israel.
As for the Fourth of July itself, some memorable actions have taken place on that date across the state and the nation over the years. What is believed to be the holiday’s first celebration west of the Allegheny Mountains took place in Central Kentucky in 1794, for example; and in 1862, the Battle of Tebbs’ Bend was fought in what is now Taylor County, which saw heavily outnumbered Union soldiers turn back attacks led by Confederate Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan.
Speaking of the Civil War, the most famous battle on U.S. soil – Gettysburg – ended three days of intense fighting just before the Fourth dawned. As many as 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or listed as missing during those 72 hours in 1863.
Nationally, Paris formally presented the United States the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July in 1884, and in 1960, the United States capped Hawaii’s new statehood by unveiling the 50-star flag we fly today.
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 always given more than her fair share, and over the years, our contributions have grown substantially. Fort Knox and Fort Campbell and numerous other military posts are some of the most visible signs, and our businesses provide billions of dollars’ worth of products used in our nation’s defense.
Most importantly, tens of thousands of Kentuckians serve here or abroad, and we are also home to more than 330,000 veterans.
As we remember those who have served 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 a little more than 50 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 ready for the fourth’s fireworks and festivities.
I hope you and your family have an enjoyable holiday.