July 4 is not just a day on the calendar or a day off from work. It is a date that marks a seminal event, not just in our history, but in the history of the world. The establishment of the American nation was unique in that it was the first nation in history to be about more than just blood and soil.
America is an idea as well as a concrete place and a distinct people. Our American revolution was not just a war against a tyrannical government. It was a revolution to become the embodiment of Enlightenment ideas. A nation dedicated to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ was revolutionary in every sense of the world.
And Tennessee’s role in securing this nation was a critical one – and one worth remembering.
While Tennessee was not a state at the founding of our nation, the region that would be become Tennessee was born in rebellion. Before independence had been declared, the British issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which stated that any settlement west of the Appalachian Mountain Chain was prohibited. Despite this edict, a few brave settlers put down roots in the land which would become our state.
The Watauga settlement, known as the Watauga Association, was the first free government in Tennessee. While it did not last long, the Association joined the fight against the British.
British Loyalists had given an ultimatum to the frontiersman living in the Appalachian Mountains to lay down their arms or their army would “lay waste the country with fire and sword.” The early Tennesseans refused – and the rest, as they say, is history.
One of Tennessee’s greatest heroes, John Sevier, made his name during the Battle of Kings Mountain fighting the British Empire and the tribes loyal to the crown. Tennessee’s founding fathers and those of America were cut from the same cloth.
And on this day above all others, we should be proud of this history.
This day commemorates the first time in human history that a nation was organized not by race or ethnicity but around common ideals. What it means to be an American is not something passed on through our genes. It is something learned and taught. It is carried on in every American’s heart and mind.
Human beings want to be free. The founding of our nation made the dream of true freedom possible. We must remember today not only who we are and where we came from but what the existence of the American nation means to the world.
While many across the globe share our ideas and wish us well, there are those who oppose the very idea of America and wish to see it destroyed. These forces come both from within our own borders and from without.
We must keep the spirit of 1776 alive. We must remember and celebrate our proud history and heritage. The cause of freedom depends on it.
Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, is the 87th speaker of the Senate and lieutenant governor of Tennessee. Tennessee’s fiscal conscience, McNally is recognized across the state and nation as a finance and budget expert.