Fingerprints of Independence

Unless you’ve been to Washington D.C. to see the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes, you might not know it has somebody’s fingerprint ink smudge on it. I know, insensitive right? How dare you—whoever you are—put your grubby fingers all over the most precious gift of liberty ever bestowed upon the civilized world.

I wouldn’t blame any proper American for responding this way, but with respect to the circumstances, we ought to cut the guy some slack. For one thing, the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the National Archives Building is one of several original drafts. It’s not as if he soiled the only copy extant. Secondly, chances are high that, as the Continental Congress was accustomed to doing, he had to pack up the Declaration in a hurry and flee from the threat of the British Army. And, of course, we can’t leave out the most important detail surrounding this whole discussion: Some guy literally left his fingerprint on THE Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock left metaphorical fingerprints on the document, but this guy actually impressed a part of himself, unique to him and him alone, permanently onto one of the most valuable documents in all of history.

Nothing illustrates the beauty of America’s Independence Day better than this. The fingerprints of unknown individuals helping to shape a nation are what America is supposed to be about. American liberty was not won by the efforts of a few famous founding fathers, but by the life-long commitments of billions of normal people. How many signers of the Declaration can you actually name? What about the Constitution? Can you list more than five vice presidents or Supreme Court justices? The goal is not to shame you because you are not a history scholar; I want to encourage you because you are a history maker. No one is arguing against the influence of any revolutionary framers or anyone who has served in public office, yet when even their names go unremembered, why do we continue to ignorantly attribute the success of the United States to a handful of faces carved in a mountainside or etched onto currency?

America was built by the unknown for the worth-knowing. An unrecognized founding father named Button Gwinnett signed the Declaration of Independence so that Abraham Lincoln could one day sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The patriot laid to rest at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier sacrificed his life so that Rosa Parks could one day refuse to give up her bus seat. Slaves labored to construct the White House so that one day Michelle Bachmann and Hilary Clinton could have a shot at sitting in the Oval Office. The fingerprints of the unnamed masses lay beneath the thin layer of recognizable individuals and milestone accomplishments that highlight history textbooks.

No one will ever know the name of patriot who left his fingerprint on the Declaration of Independence. But just down the road from where that document rests is a memorial dedicated to the man who penned the words of the Declaration; every Fourth of July, fireworks illuminate his tribune, and people speak his name with respect and awe. To some, we build monuments, and to others, we give honor by imitating their courage and patriotism and by walking down the path of freedom they laid out before us. Immigrants. Descendants of the Pilgrims. Welfare families. Trust fund babies. Criminals. Religious ministers. Farmers. Wall Street brokers. Republicans. Democrats. Privileged women of color. Low-income white men. Single dads. CEO mothers. United by freedom and empowered by liberty, these are the ones who bring independence to life through the way they live their day to day lives as Americans.

All are equally American, and all have equal claim on the American Story. Whoever you are, whatever your narrative is, if you use the privilege of your liberty to make a way for others to find their own freedom, if you celebrate every day you wake up an American as Independence Day, you, too, will surely leave your fingerprints on America’s legacy.

Written by Savanna

Image credit

Hey Labor Day

Hey Labor Day!

I just wanted to say thanks for a day off of school. Unfortunately, school starts before you arrive. That’s changed since your formation. Sorry about that. You no longer symbolize the end of summer and the start of school. But, we must not forget your original purpose. A long time ago, there was a conflict between the American working class and their employers. In the late 1800s, a boycott against the Pullman railway cars caused the federal government to dispatch soldiers to break up the strike (“Labor Day”). Riots broke out and many workers lost their lives. Finally, Congress realized the importance of having a day devoted to the working class (“Labor Day”). Thus, Labor Day was born. You are celebrated the first Monday in September, a federal holiday. You are the much needed break between summer and Thanksgiving. So what can we do during this wonderful time you have brought us?

Well, what most people have done in the past is to hold a parade! In fact, “on September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history” (“Labor Day”). Businesses, schools, and organizations build floats and line up one by one to proceed slowly through the center of town. Some floats have moving parts, are covered in twinkle lights, or simply feature music and a few signs. It is not uncommon for food trucks or restaurants to cater food to these events. The folks of the town and those coming to see the festivities often bring foldable chairs and position themselves side-by-side along the edges of the road. After the parade, most families simply return home and enjoy the rest of your holiday before returning to school or work the next day.

1st labor day

Sometimes, Labor Day, neighbors converge on a cul-de-sac and have a cookout! This is my favorite way to spend your holiday. All the grills are brought out, and meat is cooked and smoked. Burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or anything that can be cooked is on the grill. Those who don’t grill make the side dishes: beans, coleslaw, potato salad, fries, and fruit salad. And don’t get me started on the desserts, probably the best part in my opinion: cake, cupcakes, ice cream, brownies, cookies, and special concoctions with pudding. This is a great way for everyone in a neighborhood to come together and mingle. And the best part is that the food is basically free!

There are many more options that people can choose from to celebrate time off from school/work. Whatever they choose, though, your holiday is a wonderful siesta/fiesta from the grueling effects of education.

Each and every year we welcome you back with open arms and relaxed minds. We won’t forget all you do for us, Labor Day.

Sincerely,

Maddie

“Labor Day.” History.com. 2010. 26 Apr. 2016.

Written by Maddison

Image credits: Featured Image, First Labor Day Parade