The Star-Herald

Declaration of Independence celebrated in Presque Isle on Fourth of July

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Close to 30 individuals from the community filled the seats at the historic James School in Presque Isle on the Fourth of July to honor the document that officially made the United States a free nation. 

“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’” said John DeFelice, associate professor of history from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, as he read from the Declaration of Independence.

Every year the board of directors for the James School, which was used as a one-room schoolhouse from 1917 to 1948 and restored in 1987, invites a community member to read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety and give brief historical background on the document that was signed on July 4, 1776.

Madeline and Megan Paterson, the 10- and 5-year old, granddaughters of James School board members Martha and James Pritchard, rang the old school bell at the front entrance, signaling the beginning of the afternoon lesson. Community members listened as intently as school children as DeFelice told the story of how the founding fathers first thought of the ideals surrounding democracy and freedom.

“Many of the ideas in the Declaration of Independence are those that the founding fathers got from England, the very people that the colonies rebelled against,” DeFelice explained. “In 1688, the Glorious Rebellion occurred in England, which resulted in King James II losing power and the English Bill of Rights in 1689.”

That Bill of Rights established rights such as freedom of speech, the freedom to bear arms in self defense, and freedom to petition, all of which were included in the Declaration of Independence in the United States.

For many people, hearing the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July was a great way to celebrate the American values that they believe in today.

“It’s humbling to be reminded of the spirit that the founding fathers had during the formation of our country,” said John Smits of Presque Isle. “I admire how they wrote about the freedoms we have in such a solemn, moving way.”

Madeline Paterson said she enjoyed learning about the Declaration of Independence, which she also has learned about in school.

“It’s important because it tells about America’s past and how the country came to be,” she said.

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