DALLAS, July 3, 2013 ― On July 4, 1804, Captains Lewis and Clark and the rest of the Corps of Discovery celebrated the first Independence Day west of the Mississippi by firing off their cannon. They were at the beginning of a grand adventure that was the first steps in opening the West to their countrymen.
In addition to this exploring spirit, they took along the ideals of democracy — more advanced than even those which existed in the safety of Eastern civilization. On the Pacific Coast, the votes of the slave York and the Native American woman Sacajawea were counted equally with those of the soldiers in the Corps in deciding where to make winter camp.
In the history of America, the spirit of liberty and the spirit of adventure have always been interwoven. Pilgrims and others seeking a better, freer life set off on a grand and often treacherous adventure to the New World. Pioneers pushed into pathless wilderness. Enterprising Americans have sought ways to go farther and do more than any who went before them.
On July 4, 1825 Americans broke ground on the Erie canal, opening the West to even more Americans, and the following decades saw a flood of pioneers moving into untamed land.
On July 4, 1828, Charles Carroll, the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, broke ground on the first railroad in the United States, ushering in a new era of freedom of movement, sending more and more Americans onto new adventures. Liberty and adventure. Freedom and progress.
In the modern era, we took our adventures to the stars. Brave men and women have launched into space in spite of deadly risks. We’ve gone to the moon, sent scientists and explorers into orbit. In 2005, NASA produced a fireworks display for the stars by slamming the spacecraft “Deep Impact” into the comet Tempel 1.
Colonel Douglas Wheelock demonstrated how closely the spirits of liberty and adventure are intertwined when he honored fallen Medal of Honor recipient Sonny Stone on July 4, 2010 from the International Space Station.
Even now, American astronauts Commander Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg are part of an multi-national crew on the International Space Station. No doubt they will mark their nation’s birthday, and most likely never forget the experience of Independence Day among the stars.
However, in recent years we’ve curbed our adventurous spirit, not coincidently as the spirit of liberty has also been curbed. The Space Shuttle program was mothballed in 2011 with nothing on the drawing board to replace it. American space explorers now bum rides from Russians.
Here on earth, the wild and often dangerous sense of adventure and discovery is overshadowed by a “safety first” ethic and a government which imposes more and more liberty destroying regulations in the elusive attempt to provide that safety. The result is that the adventurous spirit is no longer necessarily considered a basic part of every American, but a special trait for the exceptional and perhaps crazy few.
Our history tells us otherwise. While the Corps of Discovery that first ventured into the unknown West consisted of a few dozen men and one exceptional woman, the thousands of Americans who blazed trails after them were “regular” people, individuals and families seeking freedom and adventure.
Adventure and liberty are in our cultural DNA. We will again see Independence Day celebrations focusing on new adventures, whether in launching private space explorations, or opening new frontiers on earth or under the seas. While the government shies from risk and seeks to limit freedom, we are still a people descended in spirit and blood from those who pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
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