As we ready to celebrate the Fourth of July on Saturday, it’s worth remembering the words President Kennedy spoke at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall a little more than five decades ago.
“The theory of independence is as old as man himself, and it was not invented in this hall,” he said, “but it was in this hall that that the theory became a practice; that the word went out to all, in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, that ‘the God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.’”
While a lot has obviously changed since the Declaration of Independence was signed in that hall 239 years ago this week, I think our Founding Fathers would still feel right at home during the holiday’s traditional festivities. They also would recognize that the challenges we face now as a nation may be different, but that what we seek to protect and promote – freedom, both here and abroad – has not changed.
It’s worth noting that Kentucky has several major ties to that long-ago era, even though we were still not yet a state. Lexington, for example, is believed to be the second community outside of the 13 original colonies to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That event came just a day after the first in Marietta, Ohio, in 1788.
Kentucky actually was home to that timeless document for several years, when federal officials decided during World War II that Fort Knox would be a much safer place to keep it temporarily.
The Battle of Blue Licks in what is now Robertson County, meanwhile, is considered by many to be the Revolutionary War’s last skirmish. Although it did not affect the war’s outcome, its casualties did include Daniel Boone’s son Israel.
A little more than a year ago, the Kentucky Historical Society unveiled a marker commemorating Daniel Morgan, a brigadier general who was one of the Revolutionary War’s top leaders. Morgan County is named after him, as is Morganfield in Union County and Morgantown in Butler County.
His son-in-law, Presley O’Bannon, also played a major role in American history as the first soldier to raise our country’s flag over foreign soil during a time of war. That effort is remembered today in the second half of the opening line of the Marines’ Hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”
In celebrating our nation’s founding, it’s crucial that we also honor those who have protected it in the two-plus centuries that followed. More than 40 million men and women have served since we declared our independence, and estimates indicate there are well over two million today who are on active duty or in the Reserves or the National Guard. Hundreds of thousands more provide support as civilians.
As it always has, Kentucky plays an outsized role when it comes to our nation’s defense, with Fort Knox and Fort Campbell leading the way. Several years ago, an in-depth study found that the military had a direct economic impact of more than $15 billion here in Kentucky. Nearly half was for pay and benefits, while $6.5 billion covered military contracts. The study also found that we are among the top 10 states in total military personnel.
Kentucky’s elected leaders are unified in making sure we maintain this prominence as the federal government begins cutting back defense spending. We believe the Commonwealth should not shoulder an unfair burden in that regard.
For now, though, my hope is that you and your family have a wonderful holiday weekend, and I encourage you to take part in numerous Fourth of July events being planned by our community and Jenny Wiley State Resort Park.
These gatherings remind us not just of the contributions of such historical figures as Washington, Jefferson and Adams, but also the sacrifices many others have made on our behalf. Together, they provided the foundation for the way of life we enjoy today. It is difficult to imagine what the world would be like without them.