There are lots of things we expect on the Fourth: fireworks, friends, family. There are things we love (sparklers, Roman candles, cold beer) and things we despise (sauerkraut, ambrosia, Lee Greenwood… all right, haters… this was from a friend. Direct all your spittle-filled anger elsewhere).
Here are a few unexpected things about the Fourth you can share tomorrow, if only to divert mom’s attention away from Uncle Collin while he takes the youngest kids ’round back to set off three packs of taped-together Blackcat firecrackers…
10. No Rush to Get “God Bless America” to the People
Famed American composer Irving Berlin gave his adopted nation one of its greatest and most iconic songs but it didn’t see the light of day because its author didn’t deem it worthy of being sung. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900s and helped to draft a musical comedy for his fellow troops in which he composed the song for its final number — a tune inspired by a phrase his Russian mother would often utter after escaping to America from underneath the iron fist of the bloody Russian empire. However, the composer didn’t think it would fit in the show and kept it in his file for 20 years until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks. (Source)
9. Ehhhh… We’ll Get To It. We’re… Busy.
July 4th was not declared a federal holiday until 1941. Most federal holidays are observed on a Monday but despite the temptation of a Guaranteed Long Weekend, that pesky date made lawmakers leave it be. (Source)
This week, as the Supreme Court released its rulings on a variety of different issues, supporters of same-sex marriage were particularly anxious to hear an important piece of news: the Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.
What is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?
The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that restricts federal marriage rights to opposite-sex couples. It was enacted on September 21, 1996 under the Clinton administration, though Clinton, among others who were involved in the law’s enactment, has since changed his position and advocated for its repeal.
The law’s exact wording on the issue of marriage is as follows:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” (Defense of Marriage Act)
Among others, these are the benefits that have been denied to same-sex marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act:
- Insurance benefits for government employees
- Social Security survivors’ benefits
- Immigration benefits
- Joint tax return benefits
What is Prop. 8?
Prop. 8, or California Proposition 8, is a ballot proposition passed in California’s November 2008 elections. Much like DOMA, it declares that only opposite-sex marriages may be recognized by the state of California. The proposition effectively overturns a California Supreme Court ruling released in May of 2008 that found marriage to be a fundamental constitutional right that should be granted to all couples. The timeline of same-sex marriage history in California is shown below:
The National Archives houses our nation’s most important records including “[a]ll archives or records” of the U.S. Government, legislative, executive, or judicial” documents as well as “motion-picture films and sound recordings illustrative of historical activities of the United States.”
If you had to guess how old such an important administration would be, what would you say? 200 years? More?
Nope. On June 19th of this year, the institution turned just seventy-nine years old.
Proving that government has long moved at the speed of a handicapped slug, it took until the early twentieth century for legislators to think, “Hmmmm…. perhaps we need an official location for our treasured, important documents,” and establish the National Archives.
A historian named J. Franklin Jameson took up the cause of promoting such a facility in 1908. Eighteen years later, in 1926, he finally raised enough money to fund construction of the National Archives. And then it took another eight years for legislation to come to Capitol Hill (by which time the building was already under construction). President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone in 1933, just a couple weeks before Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office.
And then things stalled again.
FDR was perhaps understandably distracted by the enormous problems of the Great Depression. He waited another three months to enact legislation naming an archivist. The job finally went to a professor of history from North Carolina, R.D.W. Connor, at a salary of $10,000 per year.
What sort of historically important documents are housed at the National Archives?
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Articles of Confederation
- The Constitution
- The Bill of Rights
- The Louisiana Purchase
- The Emancipation Proclamation
Just to name a few. You can few the entire list and see image of the documents at the National Archives Home Page here.