FRANKFORT – While the calendar tells us that summer technically began last week, the truth is that it feels like the season is halfway over by the Fourth of July, since that is roughly the mid-point between the end of one school year and the start of the next.
The story of our country’s “birthday” is one of the first history lessons our students learn, of course. It marks the time, 240 years ago on Monday, when we adopted the Declaration of Independence that stated we no longer thought of ourselves as 13 colonies but a nation in our own right.
Not everyone thought the Fourth would be remembered as prominently as it is today. Founding Father John Adams believed July 2, 1776, was more important, since that was the day the Second Continental Congress actually voted to break away from Great Britain.
Although his prediction was wrong, that doesn’t diminish the outsized role he played in our country’s early history. Among many other things, he was the chief advocate for having Thomas Jefferson serve as principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and those two men were the only ones to sign it who would become president. (George Washington was away at the time leading the Continental Army.)
Interestingly, both Adams and Jefferson died within hours of each other on the Fourth of July – 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was approved.
It is worth noting that there was some early doubt about another American symbol, the eagle. While he did not directly advocate for the turkey, Ben Franklin wrote in a letter to his daughter that this Thanksgiving staple might be more appropriate since it is native to the country and “a bird of courage.”
Kentucky may still have been part of Virginia when the Revolutionary War was fought, but the commonwealth does have some key links to that era.
The Battle of Blue Licks in Robertson County, for example, is considered by many to be the last major skirmish of that war. Although our victory was already secure by that time, the battle did carry a high price. Daniel Boone’s son Israel was among the casualties, as were Colonels John Todd and Stephen Trigg, whom Kentucky honored by naming two of its counties after them.
In more recent times, Kentucky played a role in protecting the Declaration of Independence during World War II. Because leaders wanted it to be more secure – and away from a potential attack on Washington, D.C. – the historical document was taken first to Louisville in 1941 and then to Fort Knox, where it stayed until being returned in 1944.
In addition to recognizing our country’s independence, the Fourth of July is also a time when we remember the sacrifices of those who have made sure our freedom remains secure.
Kentucky has a long history of doing more than her fair share. Today, in addition to those serving in the Armed Forces, we also have more than 330,000 veterans who call the Commonwealth home, about one in 10 adults overall.
During this year’s legislative session, we passed two new laws that will affect many of them. One will establish a new program to recognize disabled veterans who are business owners, in the hopes it will encourage more customers to shop with them, while the other law declares March 30th as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.
If you are a veteran or are still serving, I want to thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. The contributions of our men and women in uniform, from the Revolutionary War to today, will never be forgotten, and our world would be a far poorer place without them.
At its core, that is what the Fourth of July ultimately represents. It’s something we should all recall as we enjoy our cookouts and the fireworks that go with them.
From my family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful Fourth of July.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.