Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

July 4, 2014

Independence Day — Early sacrifice for today’s freedoms

— More than 200 years ago, England’s King George III wrote in his diary on July 4, 1776, that nothing important had happened that day. He was wrong.

If the king of England had had a telephone, television, email or a Twitter account, he would have gotten the shock of his life. A group of radicals in Philadelphia had signed their names to a document declaring that the American colonies were tired of the British Empire’s domineering policies. They were tired of being taxed without representation and being treated like Great Britain’s property.

This document was the Declaration of Independence, and it said that the time to part from the British Empire had come. What is often forgotten is that an “olive branch” document was sent, too. If the British government would agree to certain terms such as equal representation in parliament and granting the colonies the right to self-government, the colonies would stay in the empire.

That chance to retain the colonies was refused, and the American Revolution started. The odds were not in the colonies’ favor. The British Empire was the closest thing the 18th century had to a superpower. Britain’s army and navy were ranked as the biggest and best in the world while America’s army and navy were small and staffed by untrained volunteers.

For years, the prospects for independence were bleak. The army under George Washington almost starved to death at Valley Forge and many volunteer soldiers were losing hope. Fortunately, foreign advisors and George Washington’s perseverance gradually turned the volunteers into a real army able to face the British. Benjamin Franklin managed to win the support of France, Britain’s strongest foe, and bring important help to the American cause. Even America’s tiny navy scored victories such as John Paul Jones’s defeat of a British warship.

Victory in the American Revolution was not guaranteed. If the British had fought differently, the revolution would have ended in defeat for the colonies, and who knows what could have happened afterward.

Winning independence and forging a new nation took a lot of sacrifice and hard work. Freedom is not a treasure that is handed out for free. The colonial Americans who signed the Declaration of Independence and the ones who suffered through the bitter cold and starvation of Valley Forge and long years did not know whether they could succeed, but they won independence and created a new nation that is worth celebrating today.

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