Still in Liberty's Parade

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NOT to interrupt anyone's holiday barbeque plans with a cold shot of history, but if you wanted to celebrate the real American declaration of independence, you are two days late! It's true. The Continental Congress declared the 13 colonies free and independent of Britain in a resolution passed on July 2, 1776.

Two days later, on July 4, Congress did adopt Thomas Jefferson's Declaration - but then waited until Aug. 2 to sign it.

But wait. Don't pack in those charcoal briquets quite yet. July 4 has always been the recognized day of parades and fireworks. The event sealing that date was the 1788 fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia. Only days before, news arrived that the crucial state of Virginia had ratified the Constitution, upping the total to 10. Finally, it appeared, liberty would be protected by law.

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To celebrate, Philadelphia staged a ``Grand Procession'' - the granddaddy of all July 4 parades.

A 20-foot carriage with a 13-foot eagle set on springs led the parade. Further back, the new federal ship Union was wheeled along the cobblestones, firing 20 guns.

Marching throughout were hundreds of citizens: merchants, architects, tailors, the Agricultural Society, the Manufacturing Society, sailmakers, tanners, clergymen, lawyers, and coopers.

Near the front, a sign was carried that read ``The People.''

Today, we think all Americans are still part of that parade. All lovers of freedom are part of it - from China to Poland.

The American people's strong sense of fairness and decency is still worth celebrating. We note the young New York woman who this year tracked down a fireman who saved her life in 1975 and made him her high school graduation guest of honor.

The finale of the 1788 July 4 was an oratory ending on words worth repeating in 1989: ``Liberty, virtue, and religion go hand in hand, harmoniously protecting, enlivening, and exalting all. Happy country, may thy happiness be perpetual.''

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