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Happy Birthday!

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness 236 Years Later
 

Commentary by Stephen Heck

 

“We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor”.

Declaration of Independence of the United Colonies  July 4, 1776

 

“He just wanted a chance to eat and break the record and prove that he was the real champion.  Unfortunately, he was unable to reach an agreement with the organizers.”

Yaki Nagura - Manager of Takeru Kobayashi, Winner of Five National Hot Dog Eating Championships from 2001-2006

 

In May of 1776 representatives of the thirteen American colonies convened as the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After nearly a year of war with Great Britain expectation was in the air that the colonies would finally and formally declare independence from the sovereignty of George III, and yet some delegates were still hoping that the King and Parliament would come to their senses and recognize the unique political and economic needs of the American colonies, but that appeared increasingly unlikely. The King had already issued a Proclamation of Rebellion and had been actively engaging the services of German mercenaries to supplement the red-coated ranks of his own English and Scottish regiments to forcibly keep the thirteen colonies in the British Empire. Concurrently, the tide for complete independence was rising and several colonies and towns had been issuing statements and proclamations of independence so by May 15, 1776 the Continental Congress had taken elements from the best of these to draft a preamble to a Resolution that would sever the ties with Britain and its stubborn King.  Events moved apace at a rate that would shock our contemporary Congress and by mid-June 1776 a committee of five delegates began drafting a formal declaration of independence with Thomas Jefferson taking the lead in writing the draft.  Mr. Jefferson completed his draft “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress Assembled” by June 28th.  Congress began its debate on July 1 and after various edits voted on July 4, 1776 to approve the document with 12 colonies voting in favor and only one colony abstaining. Thus, this Second Continental Congress enshrined the “unalienable rights” of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” as an inspiration for later generations of Americans and countries not yet in existence in 1776.  Congress, with this unique document, sundered all connection to the British Crown and Parliament, even though it required seven more years of bloody combat to guarantee the final dissolution. 

The fifty United States of America will celebrate their 236th year of independence this month with the usual flurry of fireworks, rodeos, parades, and picnics in memory of an event that for most Americans is, alas, just a time to have fun with all too often a surfeit of food, drink, and poorly handled explosive devices.  With the increasing ignorance of American citizens about their own history, the context of the Fourth of July has become as obscure as the origins of the Star-Spangled Banner and the War of 1812.  In current “pursuits of happiness”, the Eating Contest has become established as one of the key aspects of summer festivities in the United States with July 4th representing the high point (or low point) for these celebrations of gastronomic excess. One of the most famous contests of ingestion is the national Hot Dog Eating Contest which has been held since 1972 at New York City’s Coney Island.  In this contest, 20 contestants typically sit at a 30 foot long table and then proceed to devour within 10 minutes as many hot dogs and buns as their stomachs can tolerate.  The grand prize winner for 2011, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, won a trophy, two cases of hot dogs, and $10,000 for consuming 62 hot dogs. Fortunately for him he was not disqualified for what is euphemistically called a “reversal of fortune” which typically is caused by the contents of the stomach seeking higher ground.  The drama of this particular contest, however, has been represented by the intense rivalry over the years between Mr. Chestnut and Tekeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi.  Mr. Kobayashi won the eating championship from 2001 to 2006, but was disqualified in 2010 and 2011 by the contest organizers for “unprofessional and unsavory” behavior which included incarceration in 2011 for trespassing and resisting arrest.  Mr. Kobayashi obviously bit off more than he could chew.

Do we take comfort in the fact that 236 years after the issuance of the Declaration of Independence the meaning of July 4th and “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” finds its full expression in national eating contests that celebrate gluttony and greed?  American society has always presented many contradictions throughout its history as it has tried to reconcile ideals with realities, and this year’s 4th of July celebrations will undoubtedly maintain that noble tradition. But instead of focusing on the utter stupidity of much of the drama that exists in our times, focus instead for a change on the sublime and grand language and drama behind the Declaration of Independence.  We need to recall a time in American history where fractious dialogue between the states of the Union would soon lead to a War between the States, and when an obscure lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln said in 1854:  “Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust.  Let us repurify it... Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it…If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union, but we shall have it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.” 


Stephen J. Heck is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute. Steve has extensive experience leading complex, multi-faceted initiatives impacting growth, operating efficiency, and overall financial performance of businesses across diverse sectors including public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Career achievements include reengineering under-performing business operations, managing Information Technology enterprise system integration and facilitating global business expansion and growth. He has held senior positions with such organizations as Synergy Consulting in Portland, Oregon; the WiMAX Forum in Beaverton, Oregon; Humboldt State University in Arcata, California; and Metro Regional Government in Portland, Oregon. Steve gained a B.A. and Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University, Oregon. He also received a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle after serving as an infantryman in Vietnam. He has been a member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE, and served as Vice Chair of the Portland Police Bureau’s Citizens Advisory Board. Since 1996 Steve has been an evaluator with the Prior Learning Assessment Program at Marylhurst University in Oregon, and from 1984 to 2000 Steve was Adjunct Professor in Public Administration at the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University in Oregon.


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