Fourth of July
by Marc Moran
July 3, 2002
During the winter of 1777, on the southern flank of Sourland Mountain, stood
a little stone schoolhouse not far from what is now the intersection of
Wertsville and Losey Roads. A man in a military uniform walked into the room
unannounced, his snow-covered boots echoing on the wooden floor. He ordered
all of the boys to stand in a line against the wall, from the tallest to the
shortest, and asked how many of them would be willing to serve their country
when they were of age.
All twenty-one raised their hands.
The man in the uniform was General George Washington, and the schoolhouse,
although only its foundation remains, stood less than a mile from my front
I heard this story many times growing up. I heard it the same way people heard stories for thousands of years before devices like radios and televisions appeared and began to tell different stories. This was the kind of story that was passed down from family member to family member,
issuing from the lips of those local boys to their sons and to their
grandsons and so on down through the chain of generations. I
heard it from the lips of my own grandfather much in the way he must have
heard it from his own grandfather, a veteran of the Army of the Potomac. It
is a good story because it rings of truth and it lets us into the mindset of
the people of that time, a time when leaders engaged in intimate
relationships with their people, and people felt an obligation, even at a
young age, to their own.
I have told this very same story to my own son, on more than one occasion,
and he has since taken to repeating it whenever we happen to pass by the
spot where those young boys once promised to do their duty to the father of
The Fourth of July is significant for good reason. Not only did we declare
our intention to be a free people, a people able to determine the course of
its destiny unencumbered by the yoke of tyranny, we did it in such a
way as to subordinate the rights of individual liberty to our rights as a people. Consider that thought for a moment...how often, these days, are we called to put the rights of our nation ahead of ourselves? How often do we, even the most aware of us, take thought of or care for the greater life of our people?
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to
dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...
One people. Not a seething mass of scattered individuals, as we have come to understand our place in the onerous rush of history, standing as we are on the fragile ground of the current era, but rather a common, united people.
Not a yammering horde of combative lobbies, elbowing their way to a place at
the trough. These men cared not a whit about the individual on that summer's
day over 225 years ago, although they certainly planned that his rights
would be preserved should their cause prevail. Instead they were focused
intently on insuring the continuation of the people that preceded and produced those rights; the people that would make its way through history based upon its commitment to one another and its children's children. The founding fathers understood that, in the words of my grandfather, you dance with the one who brought you.
Despite our zealous defense of personal liberty these days, we willingly send our genetic inheritance into the ash heap of history. Women abort their unborn
as a matter of course, by the millions. Many who do carry children to term
carry those of another race, almost a quarter of a million a year,
discarding thousands if not millions of years' worth of finely tuned DNA in
favor of a mate who despises what her own people have created.
We have abandoned our responsibility to watch over and protect our youth
from the degradation and dissolution of a crumbling culture to pursue our
own selfish ends. We have stood by idly while our hard-won liberty has been
slowly and inexorably stolen not only from this generation, but from our
We have taken a precious gift and tossed it into the mud.
Twenty-five years ago a group of friends and I climbed up to High Point, the aptly named mountaintop in the northwest corner of New Jersey. The Kittatinny
Mountains are not a particularly impressive range, but they are among the
oldest mountains on earth and from the top the view overlooks New Jersey,
Pennsylvania and New York, all in the same sweeping vista. It was the Fourth
of July and we had climbed up that evening to watch the fireworks. As the
sky darkened we looked out over the endless horizon as towns as far away as
Morristown, Newburgh and Manhattan fired their rockets and bombs into the
sultry summer night. It was not like the typical in-your-face kind of
fireworks displays one sees at a fairground, but rather a soft
unfolding of fireworks, something akin to a field of fireflies on a warm
June evening. Even the sounds of the explosions when they made it to the
mountaintop were muted and calm, like the air that we breathed. It was a
celebratory event and under the velvety spread of sky and stars it
seemed possible to imagine what the first Americans were thinking when they
knew their cause had prevailed, that they were, for the first time in
their lives, free.
We climbed down in the cooling air afterwards, quietly, immersed in our own
thoughts yet together, like a squad of soldiers descending towards camp. Two
of us joined the service not long after that, the others have gone off into
the world and I have not heard from them since.
I have never been back to High Point, although I plan on it one day,
hopefully with another group of young men who, like my son, understand what
this Nation represents and how, in a crucible it was refined into something
purer and more righteous than anything that existed before. I watch
fireworks on occasion, although I have noticed a trend, at least on the east
coast, where towns shoot off their fireworks displays on the 7th or the 10th
or whatever Saturday or Sunday takes place closer to the fourth. I have
heard all the arguments about people being out of town, or how weekends are
more convenient, but I think I understand quite clearly what is taking place
by dislocating the event from the celebration. Much in the same way that
Merry Christmas became Happy Holidays and the Pledge of Allegiance became an
unwelcome infringement, the celebration of what took place on a certain July
day, centuries ago, has become an anachronism. The United States of America
today, is not the Nation those men wrested from their oppressors and carved
out of this continent, and the men at the controls know it. That is their
reason for marginalizing our history and for disparaging men far greater
than themselves. It is the reason that February no longer brings to mind
George Washington, but Martin Luther King Jr., a man who could not keep his
vow to his wife or write his own words, but rather had to steal them from
others. I have no idea what this man means to the Blacks who dwell amongst
us, but to me he means nothing at all.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. I don't know you and you don't know
me. We don't speak the same language, we don't think the same way, our
values are different and our needs are at odds.
We are no longer a Nation.
I think about that story of Washington entering the classroom and what would
happen if he did that today. Half of the kids would ignore his command as
"unfair" or "sexist." One would be unsure of his gender. Two of them would
run out the door, assuming his uniform was that of an INS officer. The
shortest would sue the tallest and the rest of them would say that they were
going to college, even if they couldn't spell it.
But maybe, just maybe, one of them would stand up against the wall and
bravely raise his hand, proudly, with reverence and think for a moment of
something beyond himself. He would answer the call because he would
understand that it isn't about rights or needs or even about him. It's about
the people. And he would know that he is one of them.
Every year we do have one tradition we celebrate at our home for the Fourth
of July. Each year we take an old hatchet and pin a copy of the Declaration
of Independence on an apple tree in the yard. My father used to be the one
who read it, but I have taken on the responsibility. My wife used to think
it was corny, but she doesn't think so any more and my son has come to look
forward to my reading, no matter how long it takes. Even the neighbor's kids
have made it a part of their celebration. And I read the whole thing,
including the names at the end, because I know what it represents and how
important it is that we remember their sacrifice on this single day each
year. Sometimes I don't appreciate the words in the way that I should, but
this year I will, because this year I know that the time is near when I will
have to stand up and pull on my boots and finish what it was that they
started so many years ago when they wrote...
...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever
any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of
the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying
its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness...
By a show of hands, how many of you will be willing to serve your country?
Have a very inspirational Fourth of July.