July 4, 2008
The Thin Margin of Freedom's VictoryBy Lee Cary
We the people metaphorically dodged a bullet when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment is still alive. While many of us celebrated, we were also dismayed by the thin margin of freedom's victory.
But that should not surprise us. There have been close calls in the past. And there will be others in the future, because, as once the Liberty Bell cracked soon after it was hung, so too, from time-to-time, freedom itself hangs by the thin margin of one vote.
* * *
Caesar Rodney spent the night of July 1, 1776 on horseback, riding 80 miles through a thunderstorm, rushing from Dover, Delaware to Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress was in session. The next day the Congress planned to vote on the Lee Resolution, named after Richard Henry Lee from Virginia - great-uncle of Robert E. Lee.
On June 7, Lee had moved, and John Adams seconded, that the Colonies declare their independence from Great Britain. The resolution read:
The voting was postponed for three weeks while several delegations, including Delaware's, sought guidance from their home states.
Unanimous support for independence was not a foregone conclusion.
Rodney, along with Thomas McKean and George Read, made up Delaware's three-man delegation. Rodney, a 47-years old bachelor lawyer serving as Brigadier General of the Delaware militia, was absent from Congress. He was off leading an effort to suppress resistance from Loyalists when he received notice from McKean that the Delaware vote was split one-to-one. McKean and Read couldn't agree. Rodney must come immediately to break the tie. Voting on the Lee Resolution would begin the next day.
So Rodney rode through the rain, all night.
Voting had begun when he entered the room on July 2nd, still, it was said, wearing his boots and spurs.
Rodney voted for the Lee Resolution and, thereby, added Delaware to 11 other states that approved independence. New York abstained.
Rodney's vote was not universally popular among his constituents and he lost his delegate seat in the next election. But he eventually succeeded Read as President of Delaware in 1778.
Long suffering a cancer that had so disfigured his face that he sometimes wore a silk scarf to hide part of it, Rodney resigned his office in 1781 for health reasons.
Caesar Rodney died on June 25, 1784. The exact location of his grave is unknown. But, today, you can find his image cast on the Delaware quarter. A man atop a galloping horse, riding on a mission.
The margin of freedom is sometimes thin, and may require a night ride through a storm.
* * *
The global conflagration that was World War II was engulfed in fire by August 1941.
The carnage accompanying Germany's invasion of Russia was piling up. On July 16, Hitler's troops had encircled 600,000 Soviets soldiers at Smolensk. They made half of them prisoners on August 8. That August, Hitler ordered the remaining Jewish population of Berlin -- 76,000 men, women and children -- to be deported to Poland. The "final solution" was underway.
The Vichy French government had already given southern Indochina to the Empire of Japan. Meanwhile, Japan was destroying Chungking, China with its bombers.
It was also the month when important events began slowly reversing the fortunes of Nazi Germany.
The Wehrmacht had stretched its supply lines too thin and lost its eastward momentum into Russia. As the Germans paused, the Soviets regrouped. On August 14, Roosevelt and Churchill negotiated the Atlantic Charter on warships anchored off the coast of Newfoundland.
While war raged around the globe, the U.S. House of Representatives was considering a request from Roosevelt to extend the term of duty for military draftees 6 months beyond the original 12 months stipulated by the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, passed on September 14th of that year.
Some among the original surge of draftees threatened to desert if their service time was extended. Adopting an acronym of protest meaning "Over the hill in October," the letters OHIO appeared on the walls of some barracks.
As the vote approached, hanging in the balance was whether or not the United States would continue its buildup in military manpower begun less than a year before, or discharge most of the new troops. Isolationist desires ran deep.
The vote for national defense was not a foregone conclusion.
On August 12, 1941, The House of Representatives approved the 6 months extension by one vote.
Had they not done so, the U.S. military would have even been less prepared than it was for the months immediately following December 7, 1941.
The margin of freedom can be thin, and the threat comes not always from our enemies.
* * *
Two days after the Lee Resolution passed, Congress approved the formal Declaration of Independence on July 4th. And then years later came another document that began, like this article, with "We the people."