“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the reenactor in Colonial garb read from the Declaration of Independence Friday in Harrisburg, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
The words are still powerful, 238 years later.
“It was a document that did lay out what our concerns were and how far the king had gone and the reason why we felt independency was important,” explained reenactor John Harris Jr., dressed in period.
Midstaters in 1776 learned of the rebuke of King George when Harris read it to them from his front porch. The July 4 reenactment is accurate except for the date. Independence was declared on the fourth in Philadelphia, but took a while for word to reach Harrisburg.
“It took a full ten days for the document just to reach my home,” Harris said.
Happy Fourteenth of July just doesn’t have the same ring, but that’s when midstaters heard the news from Harris’ porch. That was fast compared to the king of England, who was getting the boot.
“We figure somewhere between six and ten weeks before it even reaches his offices,” Harris said.
Communication has speeded up through the years.
Newspapers, then radio, then television, now social media have made news instantaneous.
Just a few years ago, news reporters would cover the reenactment in Harrisburg and viewers would watch it on the evening newscasts. That still happens – hopefully – but now reporters take pictures and video of the reenactments with their cell phones and tweet it into clouds. It can be seen around the world before the reenactors are done talking.
Some would like to declare their independence from so much information, coming at us so quickly. There’s an appeal to the days of public squares and the town criers.
“It seemed so much more personal because it was word of mouth communication,” said Fred Landau, who watched the re-enactment. “Whether it was, ‘I read this at the tavern what do you think? You need to come read it too.’ “
“People held on to information more,” said Harrisburg’s Sarah Fedor. “It wasn’t so fleeting. Things meant more or had more of an impact, that’s what I think.”
In 1776, it took a long time to spread the word about the Declaration of Independence, but few words have endured as long.
“We’re the only one that ever declared independence, successfully went through with it, and we still have it,” said a Benjamin Franklin re-enactor.