Friday is Independence Day, a celebration of the day America’s great founding document was signed. We will mark the day with picnics, music, speeches and fireworks — lots of fireworks.
But from the distance of nearly 240 years, many people forget that the Declaration of Independence was signed far closer to the beginning of the American Revolution than its end. It was, in fact, like Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. There was no guarantee of success, and there could be no turning back.
A century and a half ago and less than 100 years after the Declaration was signed, America was engaged in a Civil War. And in 1864, there was no guarantee of success for the Northern states and the cause of union.
It was from this perspective that an 1861 graduate of Franklin College viewed Independence Day, 1864. William Taylor Stott, now a battle-hardened member of the Union Army, had returned to his native Jennings County for a furlough and to do some recruiting.
In his diary for July 4, he wrote: “Fourth of July! Celebration at North Vernon. There was a speech by Rev. Mr. Dolph and Terrill. Daughters was there.”
It was a typical small-town celebration, complete with speeches and bunting. But the true poignancy of the moment is captured by his entry for July 6: “I shall be off to the wars again. I leave with less emotion than at the first. Still I realize that I may never see my home nor parents nor sisters again. I go prepared for any fate. My trust is in God.”
The next day, he wrote in a similar vein: “It is somewhat sad to be apart from those we love when the probabilities are that we shall not see them again.”
Stott, who would return to his alma mater in 1872 and eventually serve for many years as its president, rejoined his unit a few days later and saw his next action less than a month after leaving North Vernon.
As we celebrate Independence Day this year, it is important to remember that today U.S. troops are in harm’s way in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, just as Stott was 150 years ago. It is vital that we honor their service and sacrifice, just as we honor those who served and died in 1776, 1864 and throughout the nation’s history.
We enjoy our freedom today because of those who continue to protect our freedom.