This weekend offers a fitting respite from the turmoil Americans have experienced over the past four months. In the process of taking time off from the political and economic distress, Independence Day gives us an opportunity to appreciate the opportunities that our founders provided at great cost to themselves and their families in 1776.
The 56 appointed representatives of the then 13 colonies had spent much of 1776 debating, at times with intensity that challenged their personal relationships, on the future of the colonies and their relationship with mother England. By the end of June, after weeks of writing and re-writing the colonial delegates were finally prepared to take a vote on a Declaration of Independence, which everyone hoped would be unanimous. Several delegates still held out hope that once the declaration of separation from England be-came known it would result in rapprochement, a resumption of harmonious relations, but that was not to be.
The date set aside for recognition of this historic event- now recognized as America’s birthday- has been established as July 4. The first vote for this decision was conducted on July 2 and possibly reconfirmed – there is some dispute about this date- on July 4. Four days later, Monday July 8, the Declaration was read aloud to a very receptive audience assembled at the State House Yard in Philadelphia. Yet the document was not official until all the signatures were concluded in August 2, 1776.
David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, notes in his book John Adams that “… it was the eloquent lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration that would stand down the years, affecting the human spirit as neither Jefferson nor any could have foreseen.”
“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.”
And despite major editing by the other members of the Continental Congress, McCullough concludes that, “they were, when all said and done, his lines. It was Jefferson who had written them for all time.”
After listing a litany of com-plaints with the King of England and Parliament, the Declaration of Independence ends with these very prescient words:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Singer and entertainer Michael W. Smith has researched what happened to the signers of the Declaration, concluding they did so with a clear understanding that they were putting their lives and treasure on the line.
“Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the revolutionary army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the revolutionary war,” Smith recounts.
“They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured,” he concludes.
As we celebrate this Independence Day we should step back and reflect on current events that have included, and aggressively promoted, the purification of our history. The result of this purification has resulted in efforts to diminish if not erase the work and sacrifice of our founders.
No, the men who toiled at great personal cost during the birthing of this great country were not perfect. In fact they acknowledged this as seen in official documents, personal records and diaries. But their imperfection did not stop them from aspiring to a higher goal.
It is ironic that our efforts to correct past mistakes are actually promoted and facilitated by the genius that is articulated in our Declaration of Independence. The very individuals who are now being removed from our nation’s stage, Thomas Jefferson being the most notable, are the very source for our opportunities and in the process, 244 years later, still offer wise guidance for the future.
This week we should proudly celebrate the birth of the greatest political experiment in human history that is setting the path for a free world. In the process of this celebration we should acknowledge with grateful hearts, the gift and hard work of so many forward thinking leaders that are our founders.
Happy Birthday America