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by Ripple Van Winkle, whose ancestors never agreed to sign anything

“I may never attend another tea party as long as I live”

       – King George III of  England, in response to protests in Boston Harbor, 1773.

“Who brought the potato salad?”

– Josiah Bartlett, of New Hampshire, about an hour after the approval of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

The tradition of the Fourth of July barbecue has been with us for damn near 250 years. Appropriately enough, the first one was celebrated while the ink was still wet on a noted document that declared the independence of the Thirteen American Colonies from Great Britain.* 

Since the end of the French and Indian War tension between the British Crown and the Colonies had increased significantly. The conflict in America had left the  royal treasury depleted. The British were real estate poor and needed cash run the empire. The solution? Raise taxes in the Colonies and tighten customs controls. After all, in the eye of the Crown, the Americans had benefited most from the French defeat and somebody had to pay the caddie.

Many of the Colonists responded by harassing tax and custom officials and blood was shed. In Boston, in 1770 British redcoats opened up on protesters over on King Street, killing five. Spoiling for a fight, the Sons of Liberty jumped on the propaganda bandwagon, dubbing the bumbling incident a massacre, calling it The Shot Heard Round the World. Actually, according to ear-witnesses, the shot was heard only about as far as Concord but that little truth would not have allowed for the impact on potential supporters.

In 1773 angry Colonists hosted the Boston Tea Party and in the spring of 1775 at Lexington the fighting erupted between Yankee farmers and British regulars.

The next year, on July Fourth, with hostilities in full swing, all of the Colonies except New York voted in favor of the now completed Declaration of Independence. New York adopted it on July 11, one week after a barbecue thrown by the Continental Congress. Historians still cannot agree as to whether the New Yorkers brought the slaw or a three-bean salad but despite an afternoon of candid, often controversial exchanges the the Tory-infested colony joined the rebellion.

We eavesdrop on that fateful July 4, at about 2:30 in the afternoon: A group of revolutionaries including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Samuel Chase, John Hancock, William Whipple and Francis Lightfoot Lee are standing around a large pit where turkeys, venison and sausage were being cooked. The accents range from Yankee twang to southern drawl. 

The severe differences of opinion herein that brought on civil war 85 years later,
threatens the harmony of our nation today.

Whipple: …I don’t know Tom, I’m all for this all men are created equal business but I’m afraid we could be in for one ass kickin.

Jefferson: You worry too much, Bill, the  British are far too busy with the French to pay us any mind. Besides, we’re half a world away.  After a few months King George’s redcoats will be in full flight, tails between their legs.

Adams: That may be wishful thinking, Tom. King George seems obsessed. He calls us a mob of insolent, petty lawyers. His doctors have even warned him about getting too excited about planning the war. I don’t expect him to back off. Our spies say he’s already hired regiments of Hessians to do his bidding.

Chase: Damn! Hessians would be nothing! Will those green horseflies give us no peace? I knew it was a mistake to rent this hall across from the livery stable!

Lee: Miserable creatures akin to British tax assessors.

Hancock: How are those ribs coming, Sam? All this prime scuttlebutt has made me quite hungry.

Chase: I’m just about to add the sauce, John. It was concocted by one of my slaves. The sausages are just about ready. Hand me the spatula and I’ll turn them again.

Franklin: Has anyone seen George Washington? He said he’d make the trip down from New York today.

Lee:  He’s probably still busy watching the British fleet come up the Hudson. Have we established an official position on his expense account yet? It’s nice that he’s agreed to run this whole shooting match without a salary but somebody had better keep an eye on his taste for the good life. His sherry bill alone could put us all in the poor house before we put a bonafide army in the field.

Whipple: Speaking of money, we really don’t have the authority to spend a penny nor to levy taxes to fight a war. We were lucky to raise money for this barbecue.

Franklin: All things in good time.  My dealings with the French have opened new doors. It is our sacred duty to continue the struggle against tyranny with empty pocketbooks if necessary. The will of a free people is powerful.

Hancock: Just who are we including on this holy roster, Doctor Franklin? What about the Indians? What about the slaves? I don’t see any women among our group of eager signers.

Lee: Now see here, John, up in Massachusetts, you’ve got a slew of hot headed ideas. You’ve also got a slew of indentured servants running around while, out of the other side of your mouth, you condemn slavery in the South. Slavery is just a matter of economics, boy. It’s nothing personal. Let’s kick the Brits out first, then we’ll deal with domestic matters.

Jefferson: It does sound a bit hypocritical now that you mention it, but the revolution will not survive without the support of the slave owners. Maybe we could change the wording in the first paragraph. How does some men are created equal grab you?

Whipple: It’s too late. Our declaration is already at the printers. Besides, most of the fringe element cannot read anyway.

Franklin: Either way I think we have defined a set of timeless democratic principles…

Adams: That’s nice, Doctor, but let’s get back to this “all men being created equal matter. Is that everybody or just white males who read and write and own land?

Franklin: It’s not just everyone who’s here now. It includes all the people who will come to these shores in the future.

Whipple: Immigrants? I never considered that a break with the Empire will open us up to hordes of the tired and poor. Do you want a bunch of ragamuffin foreigners roaming the streets of Philadelphia, Doctor Franklin?

Franklin: I don’t see that we have a choice. We have to include everyone.

Lee: Nonsense. We have to keep the lid on or we will become the minority in our own land. 

Jefferson: It may appear to some that we have acted hastily and that reconciliation with the Crown is the logical outcome of our efforts…

Franklin: Reconciliation is no part of anyone’s plan. It’s submission or the sword. Our only alternative to independence is slavery.

Adams: Slavery for who?

Chase: Slavery for slaves, John. You Yankees just can’t seem to get a grip, can you.

Jefferson: Gentlemen, let’s not argue over issues yet to be addressed. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Adams: And then what happens when we want to get to the other side?

Lee: Gentlemen, please, let’s not let politics get in the way of our stomachs. Looks like the table is prepared. Let’s eat.

Hancock: Not so fast, Francis. I think my esteemed colleague from Massachusetts is on to something. Surely the French will be laughing up their silk sleeves at our brashness. I think we had better decide the slavery issue now.

Chase: Your food’s getting cold, John. First we have to send King George packing, then we can talk this over. I’m sure we’ll come to the right conclusions. After all, we are honorable men. Try some of these ribs. They’re delicious, and the eagle’s not half bad either.

-Kashmir Horseshoe 

*The actual signing of the declaration didn’t take place until August 2  but here, for the convenience of all, the author ascends to the divine right of historical embellishment . In addition, it is virtually impossible to determine if everyone holds a barbecue on that date.