235 years ago, a group of amazing individuals adopted the Declaration of Independence, setting out the reasons America wished to break free from Great Britain. The opening words of the Preamble—perhaps the best known in the world—set America’s course as a nation built not on royal blood lines, but on big ideas:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are create equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Equality and unalienable rights…big ideas, indeed. And two centuries later, they still remain as guiding principles for our nation. Even as politicians squabble and voters gripe, these big ideas still propel us forward. Often in fits and starts, to be sure, but forward nonetheless.
It can be challenging to weigh the Founding Father’s lofty ideals against the daily pettiness of so much of public and private life, but amid the hotdogs, fireworks and Sousa marches, it’s good to keep both in mind.
There are a few other things I keep in mind on this auspicious date, historical events that have occurred on or about July 4:
- On July 4th, 1187, Saladin led his Muslim armies to overwhelming victory over the Crusader forces at the Battle of Hattin, resulting in Islamic military control of the Holy Lands and especially Jerusalem.
- On July 1-4, 1863, Union and Confederate armies fought the Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle of the U.S. Civil War. When Robert E. Lee led the Confederate forces in retreat on July 4th, there had been nearly 60,000 casualties on both sides.
- On the same day, the Siege of Vicksburg ended in the surrender of nearly 30,000 Confederate forces. The entire Vicksburg campaign cost 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate killed and wounded.
- 53 years later, on July 1, 1916, British and French forces launched an attack on German armies. The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of World War I. The British suffered 57,470 casualties on the first day alone, and by the end of the fighting in November, there were more than 1 million casualties on both sides.
- And on July 3, 2011, my friend Tony Jones died of a massive heart attack.
Tony would hate to be lumped in with depressing stories of unimaginable carnage in past wars. His was a life based on humor and joy. In connecting with others that knew and loved Tony, we all agree on two things:
- Tony was the funniest man we had ever met.
- No one could think of one bad thing to say about him.
How many of us can say we have passed through life without leaving bad feelings, grudges or other slights on our fellow humans? Tony’s legacy is an important reminder that we are all in this together, and our purpose is to make life easier for each other and bring joy into the lives of everyone we encounter.
So on this day of celebration for America, I am remembering a great—though largely unsung—American. Tony Jones was one of greatest of our kind, and he will be missed.
So, Happy Birthday America. And bon voyage, Tony.