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Guest Column: remembering our city’s own fight for independence

Memorial Day, Sylvan Cemetery, Citrus Heights
File photo. Marchers, some dressed in historic military attire, travel down the “Avenue of Flags” at Sylvan Cemetery during a 2016 Memorial Day event in Citrus Heights. // CH Sentinel

Guest column by Citrus Heights resident Michael Bullington–
ONE SCORE and two years ago, our city fathers brought forth in Sacramento County the new city of Citrus Heights, fought for through the court system and dedicated to the proposition that county governments are not monarchical in power.

The date was Jan. 1, 1997. But over 12 years before that date, the movers and shakers of our beloved city put their shoulders to the plow of future cityhood by starting the process of proving economic feasibility and producing an environmental impact report to satisfy the requirements of the county and the state. Thus, Citrus Heights had declared itself independent of the County of Sacramento, but many were the battles that lay ahead.

The embryonic city’s struggle for independence would go all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which let stand a ruling by the State of California that our petition for full cityhood could go on the ballot as Measure R in November 1996. It passed with 62.7% support, and, less than two months later, Citrus Heights was birthed.

It became at that time a general law city (as opposed to a charter city), determining its own structure and hiring its own legal counsel. In this sense, the city’s creation could be likened to the federal Constitution which was approved by convention on Sept. 17, 1787, and then ratified by congress two years later by a super majority of the 13 states. 

On July 4, we don’t celebrate the creation of our country’s charter, i.e., Constitution. That wouldn’t come to fruition for another 11 years after “Independence Day.” Instead, we celebrate the day in history when we declared our independence from England.

We had already been sparring with the British since April 19, 1775, when the battles of Lexington and Concord had taken place to officially start the blood-letting. The Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston was in June of the same year.

The King’s army abandoned Boston in March 1776, thus clearing New England of British military presence for the rest of the war. Nevertheless, the cost in blood and property up to that point was small in comparison to what was to follow.

Our declaration had ignited the king’s full resolve to rein in his fractious American colonies. The following month a flotilla of over 400 British ships arrived and anchored in New York’s harbors, where they disembarked a large, well-trained army that chased our boys out of Long Island and Brooklyn and into Pennsylvania.

There, in the winter of 1776, George Washington’s sparse and bedraggled force would cross the ice-laden Delaware River to undertake successful attacks on Trenton and Princeton, that breathed life into the patriot cause in the new year of 1777.

Later that year the American army defeated Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga, New York. It is considered by many historians to have been the turning point of the war, thus convincing King Louis XVI to support our cause with money, men and materials.

The fighting would last into 1781, when Washington, with overwhelming help from the French, cornered the British general Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, and forced his surrender.

The Treaty of Paris formally ended the war in 1784 (sea travel back and forth across the Atlantic helped account for the long interval between the cessation of hostilities and the signing of the treaty). It would take yet another three years before nine of the original 13 colonies ratified the Constitution in 1787, and another two years until it went into effect in 1789.

It has been my hope that we have come to understand a little better how our country was established, by delineating the content and relationship between our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the twin pillars of our Republic.

Credit for information in this article about our city’s formation goes to Bill Van Duker, often referred to as the godfather of Citrus Heights, who was a key player in the establishment of our incorporation. He is currently putting a book together that details what happened over those formative years. Keep an eye out for it.

Michael Bullington is a 34-year resident of Citrus Heights and submits guest columns on various historic dates throughout the year. The Sentinel welcomes guest opinion columns from Citrus Heights residents. To submit an article for publication, click here.

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