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Remember our roots this July 4th

This coming July Fourth will be the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. That was when in 1776, the 13 original colonies began divorce proceedings against Great Britain. It turned out to be a contested divorce that took five years and many lives.

The Declaration of Independence was signed by many of the prominent Americans of that time, including two future U.S. presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Did you ever stop to think that all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were immigrants or the descendants of immigrants? And although we call them our nation’s founding fathers, they weren’t the first Americans. That honor belongs to the American Indians who immigrated to the Western Hemisphere from Asia several thousand years earlier.

We don’t really know what the Indian population of the United States was in 1776. The first U.S. census wasn’t until 1790 and didn’t include Indians. So Wikipedia’s guess is as good as any. It puts the Indian population within the 1790 U.S. boundaries at less than 100,000. The total population was 3.9 million.

The 1790 census did, however, count 757,000 immigrants from Africa or their descendents. Of course, almost all were slaves. They were therefore unwilling immigrants, but still immigrants.

In 1876, 100 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, France announced a special centennial gift for the people of America: the Statue of Liberty. It was completed in 1884 in Paris and unveiled in New York Harbor in 1886. (One hundred years later, a thoroughly restored Statue of Liberty was rededicated by President Ronald Reagan.)

A poem inscribed on its base ends with:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

It was also in the 1880s when my grandparents immigrated to America — two from Ireland and two from Holland. The ship carrying my Irish grandmother struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The passengers didn’t stop praying until they docked in America.

My Dutch immigrant grandfather became a gardener. Does that sound familiar?

My Irish grandparents’ first son enlisted in the Marines during World War I and was killed in 1918 in the Battle of Chateau Thierry.

If anyone asks you what kind of a nation America is, you can answer that it’s an immigrant nation.

Reach Phil Dirkx at or 238-2372