At Paca celebration, Coppersmith encourages personal responsibility
QUEENSTOWN — The Aspen Institute and Queen Anne’s County Historical Society held their jointly sponsored 57th annual Independence Day Celebration on Wednesday, July 4, at the Aspen Wye River Conference Center.
The event began promptly at 11 a.m., with a wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesite of William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the third governor of Maryland, who died in 1799.
“242 years ago today, William Paca and 55 other men pledged their life, fortune and their sacred honor to the cause that they believed, that all are created equal and all are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Chris Pupke, president of the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society.
The Rev. Mary Garner of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Centreville led the event with an invocation.
Next, the national anthem was sung by Nancy Cook, who is on the board of directors of the Kent Island Heritage Society, accompanied by the Chesapeake Bay Community Band.
Two wreaths were placed at Paca’s gravesite — one by a member
of the General Perry Benson Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and one by Dr. Warren Tewes, past president of the Colonel Tench Tilghman Chapter of the National Society, Sons of the American Revolution.
Scott MacGlashan, clerk of the circuit court for Queen Anne’s County, performed the annual bell ringing. The bell was rung 13 times in honor of the 13 colonies, and in honor of those who lived and died, defending the nation and establishing independence.
The Chesapeake Bay Community Band performed “Taps” in front of about 65 audience members.
Boy Scout Troop 464 led the assembled audience to the gardens on the east side of the house, where the Scouts presented the colors, saluted the flag and recited “The American’s Creed.”
MacGlashan recognized veterans in the audience and thanked them for their service. Pupke and MacGlashan also recognized and applauded members of law enforcement, EMS and firefighters. MacGlashan additionally recognized multiple commissioners, including Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jack Wilson and former Commissioner Bob Simmons.
“I saved the best for last, Clerk for the Circuit Court, Queen Anne’s County Elect, Katherine Hager,” Pupke said, while the audience cheered.
Dr. Clifford Coppersmith, the new president of the Chesapeake College, was the keynote speaker.
Coppersmith was the dean of City College at Montana State University, Billings, from July 2015 to May 2018. He also is a former commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard, and an intelligence officer with the Central Intelligence Agency.
Coppersmith and his wife Kathleen have three adult children and three grandchildren, and the couple lives in Royal Oak.
Coppersmith said his wife is a direct descendent of an American Revolutionary War soldier, who served in just about every engagement of the American Revolution, from Bunker Hill on.
“It’s a miracle he survived,” Coppersmith said. “Kathleen is also a direct descendent of a Civil War veteran.”
The topic of Coppersmith’s talk was “These Evident Truths: The Declaration of Independence and the Idea of America,” which was delivered from his point of view as a historian, as he has a doctorate in history and anthropology from Oklahoma State University.
“I believe we are living potentially some of the most fascinating and most destructive eras in any human history,” Coppersmith said.
“As I look at the decade of crisis in the colonies from 1763 to 1773 when the shooting starts, I see a galloping series of events begin to galvanize a movement: first amongst the colonial elite affected by British tax policy, but eventually shared down the various levels of society as the experience of oppression begins to convert uninterested bystanders normally satisfied and proud to be British Americans into something else. That was no small thing,” Coppersmith said.
“Even today with all this great British television we watch and our continuing fascination with the Royal Family, this England still has a pull on our imaginations and familial connections, even if semi-mythical,” he said.
“Historians roughly estimate that at the time of Declaration of Independence about one third of American colonists actively supported that move. From absolute Patriots to those more generally supportive but less committed, as opposed to one third of the population continuing to remain intensely loyal British citizens. The other third of the population was either apathetic about the issue or so far removed from the situation they didn’t care either way,” he said.
Coppersmith said local patriot groups eventually coalesced into committees of correspondence to formulate protests, like the Boston Tea Party.
“The word that most comes to my mind about the Declaration is aspirational ... One wonders, can the aspirational elements of the Declaration of Independence and the structure of our Constitution Republicanism evolve and maintain meaning throughout this volatile and dynamic time?” Coppersmith asked.
Coppersmith said he remains optimistic in today’s trying times.
“If there is one unspoken element of the Declaration of Independence that I see manifested in the philosophy of the document, (it) is the responsibility we have as individual citizens to exercise responsibility for the future for ourselves and those that follow us.”
Coppersmith concluded his speech by reminding the audience of their responsibility to be involved, to read, to acquire information about the truth of matters and to participate in the process by voting, debating views and maintaining connections.
In sharing his thoughts on the day’s celebrations, Pupke said, “I thought it was a great day to honor those who served and helped gain our independence. It’s a chance to celebrate that independence and our country, to reflect on what that means to us and hopefully to rededicate ourselves to our country and all that it stands for.”
“As a historian, this place just echoes with all kinds of things from the past. It’s a wonderful facility and it continues to play a major role in the community,” Coppersmith said. “I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”
Judy Price, director of Aspen Institute Wye River Campus, said, “I think it was a lovely historically significant ceremony that we are so pleased to share with the local community. Dr. Coppersmith’s comments were very appropriate. They were educational from a historic standpoint but also ver y pertinent to today’s times.”
“I think our visitors really enjoyed this event because it reflects the true meaning of Independence Day,” Price said.
The Aspen Institute also thanked the Queen Anne’s County Historical Society for its support and co-sponsorship of the event.
Boy Scout Troop 464 presents the colors at the Aspen Institute’s Independence Day celebration.
Veterans in the audience stand as they are recognized by Scott MacGlashan during the July 4 celebration at William Paca Memorial.
Nancy Cook smiles as she prepares to sing the national anthem alongside the Chesapeake Bay Community Band.
Dr. Clifford Coppersmith addresses the audience at the July 4 celebration at William Paca Memorial.
Chris Pupke, president of Queen Anne’s Historical Society, introduces keynote speaker Dr. Clifford Coppersmith.
Wreaths are placed annually at the gravesite of William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, during Independence Day celebrations at the Aspen Wye River Conference Center.