Independence Day

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 12:38 AM EDT
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - On this day, 237 years ago, a group of men gathered in Philadelphia's Independence Hall and resolved to risk everything they had to chart the course for what has become the United States of America.

Tonight, in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says that it's easy to forget between brats, parades, and fireworks, the incredible courage shown by the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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It was a moment of truth on a hot Philadelphia day.

Hostilities between the King's armies and navies and whatever forces the colonies could muster had been going on already for a year. The King had proven himself ruthless and efficient.

The attitude in England was basically that the colonies should be dealt with quickly and brutally to bring them under control.

And on that July day, a document written by Thomas Jefferson, and edited heavily by the others, was placed on the table before them.

It began with... "When it the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to another...," and went on denounce King George for taxation without representation, for his denial of civil liberties, for his use of Indians to make war on the colonists, and renounced allegiance to the British crown.

It went on to establish the theory of government on which the United States would be founded—on the right of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

It was a Declaration of Independence. An treasonous act if ever there was one.

So there they stood—12 delegates to that Continental Congress knowing full well that to sign it meant they were risking their lives, their families, and their personal fortunes for an ideal they believed in.

In every way they were solemnly thumbing their noses at the most powerful country in the world.

As if to punctuate the gravity of the moment, when it came Ben Franklin's turn, he bent at the waist, pen in hand, and said quietly, "we must all hang together, or assuredly we will hang separately."

A month later, a total of 56 men had signed the document—a document that gave birth to a new nation. And a number of them over the course of the next eight years of the Revolutionary War did, indeed, lose everything they had. But the die was cast.

One of the signers, of course, was John Adams. The next day, in a letter to his wife, he said, "The day should be solemnized with pomp and parade, with games, sports, guns, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward and forever more."

"I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration," he said. "Yet through all the gloom, I see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means...and that posterity will triumph."

That was 237 years ago. It wasn't easy then, and it isn't easy now.

Sometimes, I worry that our country has lost its way.

But if we can reclaim even a fraction of  Adams' optimistic perseverance, there is no obstacle we can fail to overcome.

So tonight—if you can—find a quiet moment, before or after  your favorite fireworks program, gather your friends, and offer a cosmic toast to that small group of men to whom we owe so much.

Happy Fourth of July.

In this corner, I’m Tom Van Howe.
Independence Day
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