Now, unlike a lot of documents that people say are not very good because they're written by committee, this one turned out pretty well. Of course, the head of this committee of five, the principal author, was a fellow by the name of Thomas Jefferson, who'd one day be the president of the new country that issued his Declaration of Independence.
The Second Continental Congress actually approved the resolution of independence from Great Britain on July 2, but after a few changes, the great document of America's birth was approved on the 4th. Hence, today's the day that Americans will join in parades, in cookouts, in song, in reunion and in happiness to celebrate this enduring land of freedom.
First, a couple of interesting things about the Declaration and this day. Thomas Jefferson would die on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the country officially declared its independence. And John Adams died on that date as well. They were the only signers of the Declaration who had become president. U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and television's Charles Kuralt, two notable North Carolinians, also died on July 4.
Today, the red, white and blue will be flying in the country's smallest hamlets and largest cities, and parades will vary from a number of neighborhood marches in Raleigh, with bikes and even dogs adorned with the country's colors, to a family parade on a little road in Scotland County with a red truck, a Rambler station wagon and one mandolin player to big city showcases with more brass in the bands than buttons in a platoon of generals.
Yes, we Americans like to do right when our country has a birthday.
We do, as well, think it important to take a moment today to consider those men and women who since 1776 have had to put on this country's uniform to protect what those in the Second Continental Congress believed so important - namely, freedom. And, yes, we should think as well about how the country they formed once tore itself in half for a time in the process of that freedom being won for all. But the country miraculously survived.
For the youngsters among us, it's also good to sit 'round those roasting hotdogs and explain just how brave those first patriots were. Now we take for granted the right to assemble, to protest, to criticize those who govern us, to march in the streets if the spirit moves us. But in 1776, the men who would become our nation's first leaders, Jefferson and Washington and Adams and Franklin and Monroe, might well have been executed for what they were about.
Just think: Without those freedoms of speech and religion and press that our forefathers won and designed, America wouldn't really be America. There never would have been civil rights and women's rights and rights for the disabled that we have now. We would be a different country, if a country at all.
Let us consider all that when we light the fireworks. And let us consider as well that the dreams of those ancestors of ours have not yet been realized for all. All Americans must continue to help ... all Americans, particularly those who are this day poor and struggling and unable to realize that which we call the "American dream."
So light the 'works. Fly the flag. Sing "America the Beautiful" and "It's a Grand Old Flag" and, whether you can manage the high notes or not, "The Star Spangled Banner."
Wish you were here, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams and Gen. Washington. Yes, indeed. Wish you were here. And we're glad you were.