I've often wondered what it would have been like to be an Average Joe during the time when the Second Continental Congress met to declare independence from Great Britain on behalf of the Thirteen Colonies. Here I am, sweaty and stinky after a day of hard labor on my farm. I brush down my animals after settling them into the barn and make my way across the black yard to the house. The oil lamp and fireplace inside the house are the only lights, killing my night vision because hey, the electric light bulb won't be invented until the day my great-grandson is farming this land.
The wife and I sit at the table with our boy, and I'm spooning in my soup when I hear the sound of hooves, a horse galloping into the yard. "A little late for visitors," comments the wife as she reaches for the musket. The sounds of dismounting, and then a knock at the door.
"Who is it?" I ask.
"It's neighbor Jeb! Big news from Philadelphia! We've declared our independence from Great Britain!"
A pause, and I ponder this. "Huh. Says who?" I ask.
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Think about it. A handful of guys meet in Philly (where they were probably booed on principle by the locals) and decide on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans on this side of the Atlantic that we would go to war for our freedom against King George. And the people, who didn't know any of these fellows and probably mostly only concerned themselves with whether or not the crop was going to come in that fall, went along with it. They didn't have CNN or Fox News to tell them what they should think. They didn't have Sean Hannity or Al Gore or Matt Damon to sway their opinions. They had occasional newspapers (not that most people could read), town criers, and good-old-fashioned gossip. And they went along with it. Revolution. That's kind of a big deal.
I guess they really didn't like tea and stamps.
The news didn't travel by Twitter, it had to be hand carried or reported via the rumor mill. Most of the people receiving this news would never have heard of the Second Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, or any of the other founding fathers.
How did it come to pass that the citizens of the Thirteen Colonies (not unanimously, true) accepted the word of total strangers that not only should we rebel against the most powerful nation in the known world, but that we had a darn good chance of winning?
* * *
John Adams remarked that the anniversary of our declaration of independence should be observed with celebrations, parades, shows, illuminations, religious observance, and sports. Sound advice, and we've taken it ever since July 4th, 1777.
Sports have changed a little bit, though. In the 1770's, the sport that was America's Pastime might have been bull baiting, which while not dissimilar from American Football, was a far cry from the game of base ball that came along a hundred years later.
Other sports with which our revolutionaries may have entertained themselves with included racing to secure cannonballs (PDF link), wrestling, Crossfit (yes, really...apparently General Washington encouraged his men to participate in games of exercise), and a game called Wicket.
Wicket was similar to cricket (also played during the revolutionary war), but most importantly to us, it was a game that required a batsman to hit a ball with a flat wooden bat after the ball was been bowled toward him by another fellow . Oversimplifying, our founding fathers and their armies played baseball. Or close enough that the distinction shouldn't matter to us fans of the grand old game.
The late 19th century saw organized base ball become a tradition during Independence Day festivities, and this tradition continues. American football may be king in the television ratings, but baseball is still America's pastime. List the things that are classically identified as truly American: Jazz. Apple Pie. Chevrolet. Baseball. Nobody says football, even if it's true. They say baseball. There's something that feels truly, well, American about attending a baseball games and seeing the pennants while eating some peanuts on a sunny summer day, dropping the shells at one's feet.
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This year will be the 54th celebration of American independence since the founding of the Astros franchise in 1962. Join other Astros fans at 12:45 PM by making the game a part of your holiday routine. I'll be with my family. Most likely, we'll be grilling hot dogs, celebrating with red, white, and blue decorations, drinking crisp American micro brews, and watching the Houston Astros play baseball.