It was 243 years ago tomorrow that our freedom mandate, The Declaration of Independence, was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. Every year, as a writer I like to reflect on these 1,328 words that form some of our history’s most eloquent and elegant language. And no wonder. Check out those bylines: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams. Surely the most recognizable 35 words in this text are:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In 1814, lawyer, author and amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, penned “The Star Spangled Banner,” recalling a battle of the War of 1812. His work became our official National Anthem. The words ring as true today as they did 205 years ago, especially:
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
“Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Twenty-two years later, poet and English literature professor, Katherine Lee Bates, wrote “America the Beautiful,” while viewing a panoramic view atop Pike’s Peak in Colorado. It became a national favorite. I’ve always liked the third stanza:
“O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
“Whose stern impassion’d stress,
“A thoroughfare for freedom beat,
“Across the wilderness.”
In 1892, a Baptist minister named Edward Bellamy, composed “The Pledge of Allegiance.” This oath was to be short and to the point. He planned it to be recited in 15 seconds, and succeeded beautifully with 30 words, ending:
“...with Liberty and Justice for all.”
And then there’s “God Bless America,” a deceptively succinct song with both words – only 40 of them – and music, written by the incomparable Irving Berlin, first in 1918, then revised in 1938. Just as impressive as the verse to this song, is its 37-word introduction, usually spoken when performed, which is still so relevant today:
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,”
“Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,”
“Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,”
“As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.”
Anyone who ever heard the unsurpassed, voluminous voice of the late Kate Smith rendering the verse to this song, knows what it is to experience patriotic goose bumps.
We’ll hear one or more renditions of these words and other inspirational compositions tomorrow. We can thank God for all of our creative wordsmiths and musicians, whose talented works make up our own national classics. You know, we really celebrate being free in this country every single day.
Because we are.
Barbara Lynch Hill is a journalist and historian.