Independence Day is a great occasion for cookouts, cooling off in the pool or watching stunning explosions in the night sky. It would have been something to live in Philadelphia in 1776, from the tolls of the Liberty Bell echoing through every street to hearing the Declaration of Independence read for the first time.
A few years later, in 1787, Benjamin Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall. When asked what kind of government they devised he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Here we are centuries and generations later and the American experiment continues. Some of us have served in uniform, playing an undeniable part of continuing our republic. But all of us play a critical role supporting the U.S. government at both defense and civilian agencies.
I recently moved outside of the Washington Beltway. On the quiet roads I’ve noticed historical markers dotting the landscape. Virginia, and the East Coast in general, abounds in history with stories from our founding and subsequent military conflicts. There are stories of lives lost and stories of heroic triumphs.
One story is fitting for Independence Day. It’s about a government worker, Stephen Pleasonton, who worked as a State Department clerk in the early 1800s. If it wasn’t for his heroic actions, he would have fallen into obscurity and we would not remember his name today.
It was August 1814. The War of 1812 was raging, but British forces had not yet arrived in Washington. Pleasonton believed the British would come to the young capital city and wreak havoc. Pleasonton in his wisdom believed the safest place for our nation’s treasured documents was 35 miles west of D.C. in Leesburg, Virginia.
Pleasonton remembered: "[Secretary of War Armstrong] did not think the British were serious in their intentions of coming to Washington. I replied that we were under a different belief, and let their intentions be what they might, it was the part of prudence to preserve the valuable papers of the Revolutionary Government."
Despite Secretary Armstrong, Pleasonton loaded the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on wagons. These documents ended up at the Rokeby Home vault in Leesburg where they remained safe from British forces.
Of course, Pleasonton was correct that the British would descend on Washington. On Aug. 24, the British burned the White House and the Capitol.
Thanks to one federal worker’s forward thinking, our nation’s documents were preserved for another generation. Today, they can be viewed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
I hope none of us are called on to act decisively like Pleasonton before our enemy rolls into town. But I’m confident every member of the IGH team would step up if called upon. I see you step up every day to the challenges and opportunities before you.
If you’re on our team at HUD, you’re supporting millions in their dream of homeownership and helping millions more have safe housing. If you’re on one of our teams supporting the National Guard, you’re supporting a legacy of state service dating back to 1636. If you’re on our Defense Health Agency Health, you support readiness among our military branches.
Your service in your role, no matter the agency, supports the great American experiment.
This Independence Day I’m grateful for you and the countless ways you serve our nation. I wish you and your families a happy Fourth of July weekend.