Monday, July 1, 2019

What the 4th of July Is About

Last week, while we had Little Political Sphere 1 (our granddaughter, the daughter of son Political Sphere) visiting with us, I planned to do a little interview with her. But we were stuffing the week intensely full all week, and I didn’t get to it until on the drive to take her back to her parents.
Me and my granddaughter
at the Water Wall in Houston

She’s almost ten, has just finished 4th grade. I told her what I wanted to do, to talk about some American history, and she was worried, because they didn’t study that this year. But I thought she did quite well.

I’ve typed up the transcript. We got distracted occasionally. I’ve edited out the GPS interruptions, and the occasional wild diversion. But the rest is here. She knew several answers, and asked good questions. There were things neither of us knew, and she was very quick to look things up on her phone (she just got her phone a few days before her visit to us). I've also added a few clarifications.

Here’s what we—Spherical Model (SM) and Little Political Sphere 1 (LPS1)—think the 4th of July is about:

SM: All right, so LPS1 and I are talking today about the 4th of July. Tell me what you know about why we celebrate—something—on the 4th of July, and what is it we celebrate.
LPS1: Our independence?
SM: From?
LPS1: Britain.
SM: Yes. Right. Good. So, what happened on that day? How did it become an important day?
LPS1: It became an important day because we got independence from Britain?
SM: What we did—we declared it that day.
LPS1: Oh, we did?
SM: So, you’ve heard of the Declaration of Independence?
LPS1: Yes.
SM: That was signed on that day. They’d been writing it a couple or three days before that, and then they signed it on that day.
Next question: Did everything go fine from that moment on, and Britain said, “OK, fine, you’re independent”? Or did something else happen?
LPS1: I think there was a war.
SM: There was a war. It was already going on by that time, but it went on for…
LPS1: a long time?
SM: Yeah. A year or two, or so. I can’t remember exactly how long. I’ll have to look that up. [The Revolutionary War lasted April 19, 1775—September 3, 1783.]
But it took a while for them to win independence. And it was kind of surprising that they won independence, because Britain was, like, the superpower of the world at the time, and America was just these thirteen little colonies. So you’d think that maybe there was a destiny or a purpose in having the United States of America in the world, and all of the ideas that came with it.
LPS1: So they wouldn’t throw more tea into the ocean?
SM: (Laughter) Do you know why they did that? What that was about?
LPS1: The tea, or…?
SM: Yeah, the tea? Why did they throw tea…? Who threw the tea and why?
LPS1: Because they had—it was the Boston Tea Party, and because they had to pay taxes for tea, I think?
SM: Yes, and they didn’t have representation. Nobody—they didn’t get to send a representative to decide on those things, so they just got charged. It was like, “Well, that’s no fair.”
LPS1: ‘Cause it’s bad for the ocean?
SM: Well, it was only a little bit in the big ocean. But the point was that they didn’t want to buy tea if they had to pay a tax that was an unrighteous tax. So they just said, “We won’t drink tea.”
LPS1: Maybe they should have just given it back.
SM: It was a symbolic demonstration.
Let’s see, so they were taxed when they shouldn’t have been. There were other things that were kind of tyrannical being done against them, so they said, “We want to be a free people. We can govern ourselves. We don’t need a king any longer.” Which was kind of a surprising new idea at that time.
Do you know who any of the leaders were at the time? We call them Founding Fathers.
LPS1: George Washington?
stained glass depicting reading the Declaration of Independence
to George Washington, at the museum at Mt. Vernon

SM: Yes. OK, tell me about George Washington.
LPS1: He was, like, the leader of them?
SM: Yeah. What did he do?
LPS1: He was like a general, and he helped them fight?
SM: Yes, he was. He was the main general of the army of the colonies, and had to hold everybody together, and do the strategy, on very little budget and resources. But he was a very good leader, and so he managed it.
Do you know anything else about George Washington?
LPS1: After the war, he became president, the first President of the United States.
SM: That’s true. Not immediately after the war. It might surprise you to know that there was at least one other president before…
LPS1: Oh yeah. I forgot his name, though.

SM: I did too. Because George Washington was the first President once we got our Constitution, which was about seven or eight years later. So he became the first President that we think of once we got our Constitution.
LPS1: Who was the first president? (She’s looking online on her phone.) It just says George Washington. He was not the first president.
SM: Well, he was the first president once we got our Constitution.
LPS1: But it just says—I asked, “Who was the first president?” in the whole world?
SM: Oh, I don’t know about that.
LPS1: That’s what I’m asking. Here it is. The first—"John Hanson became the first president of the United States of America,” and “not George Washington, was the first president of the United States.” John Hanson.
John Hanson, first President of Congress within the
Continental Congress of the United States,
from Google search screenshot
[Many people have argued that John Hanson, and not George Washington, was the first President of the United States, but this is not quite true. Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States had no executive branch. The President of Congress was a ceremonial position within the Confederation Congress. Although the office required Hanson to deal with correspondence and sign official documents, it wasn't the sort of work that any President of the United States under the Constitution would have done.]
SM: John Hanson. OK. Let’s see. Do you know anything about Benjamin Franklin?
LPS1: He did this kite project.
SM: Yes. He was a scientist, among other things.
LPS1: Yeah. He was a scientist.
SM: Yeah, so he did the kite project. He was one of the people who helped write the Constitution.
Have you heard of John Adams?
LPS1: He was— No, he wasn’t….
SM: He helped write the Declaration of Independence.
LPS1: I was thinking of the…
SM: Actually he encouraged Thomas Jefferson to write it. Do you know who Thomas Jefferson was?
LPS1: Thomas Jefferson was a president?
SM: Yes. So was John Adams.
LPS1: Yeah, he was. They were both presidents.
SM: After George Washington. I can’t remember in what order. James Madison was also one—
LPS1: I know Abraham Lincoln was the 16th.
SM: Yes. He was much later. About 80 years later. “Four score and seven years ago”—87 years. That’s from the Gettysburg Address.
So, let’s see, who else were the others? So, Thomas Jefferson did the writing of the Declaration of Independence, that they signed on the 4th of July, because he was a very good writer. And, I mean he was good at putting words together. He also happened to have really good handwriting. A lot of them did back then. It’s harder to do, ‘cause they had to do it with ink and a quill pen.
LPS1: I’m trying to think of more people, but I keep thinking of someone else that’s in a different country.
SM: Well, let’s see. We’ve got a lot of them: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. Who did I leave out? James Madison. John Hancock—he has the biggest signature on the Declaration of Independence.
LPS1: He just writes big?
SM: Yeah, he wrote bigger than the rest of them. Yeah, really pretty handwriting. And, let’s see, who else am I thinking of? The one from New York that was—  So, when they were discussing things for the Constitution, they wrote newspaper editorials [The Federalist Papers], little pieces for the newspapers to talk about—
LPS1: Wait. They had newspapers?
SM: Oh, yes. They had newspapers back then.
LPS1: How did they get the paper from the trees? They didn’t have any, like, machines.
SM: They did. Well, they didn’t have electrical machines, but they had a lot of machines. And they did— So you wouldn’t get a newspaper maybe every day, but you might get one once a week, and people would pass them around from person to person, so everybody got to see it.
LPS1: So, one newspaper for a whole town?
SM: No. Multiple people in town would buy it, enough people would buy it that the newspapermen could make a living, but they’d have to have people—
LPS1: How big were the towns?
SM: They’d have to take pieces, you know, of the type, and put a letter in separately, and it took quite a while to do it. Um, how big were the towns? Good question. You’d have to look up the numbers to know for certain.
LPS1: I’ll look.
SM: But a town, a big town would probably be 10,000 people, or a really big city maybe 25,000. Like Boston. There were big places, in Virginia and Massachusetts, mainly—
[Philadelphia (40,000) New York City (25,000 people), Boston (15,000), Charleston (12,000), and Newport (11,000)] 
LPS1: How do you divide that, like, newspaper?
SM: Well, people subscribe to a newspaper. Or they buy it at a stand where it’s sold. It’s still kind of done that way, although we do a lot more online now.
So, let’s see. Where were we? So they had these articles they would write for the paper, to discuss the ideas. And everybody could read and understand them, and share their ideas back and forth. Some of the main writers of that were James Madison, John Jay, and—I’m trying to remember the one from New York—Alexander Hamilton.
LPS1: Oh, yeah.
SM: Yes. So, those three mainly, but also some others, would write these articles arguing back and forth the ideas, and how things should work and would work. And then the people would understand too. The people did. They understood all of the things that are in Constitution.
LPS1: That’s cool.
SM: So you could read it. Everybody could read it at that time and understand it. Sometimes we look at it now, and it’s a little bit hard to understand, because language changes over time. But it’s still pretty understandable to read both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Our main law, the Constitution, is only a few pages long, really. It’s about as long as a chapter of a book. And you can read that and understand it. I mean, at your age you might have to ask what a few words mean, but your dad could tell you. ‘Cause he understood it when we were doing school together. He went through it very carefully and wrote out what he understood of all of those—‘cause, you know, your Dad does weird things for fun.
All right. Anything else about the 4th of July we should remember?
LPS1: That it is not only about fireworks.
memories from 4th of July celebrations past

SM: Yes. We do fireworks, ‘cause they’re a celebration, and they’re also reminders that there was war and bombs. But now we’re safe and we just do it for fun. And we do barbecues and go swimming and stuff like that, because we’re free to do that now. Because other people fought for our freedoms. Right?
LPS1: Yeah.
SM: OK, thank you for the interview, young lady.

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