How do you, personally, view this venerated holiday – Independence Day? Or just the 4th of July?
What do you celebrate, with or without your family? Another day off from work or school, a day to go to the beach or a baseball game, a day to eat and drink and live it up?
Or … will you consciously take even a little time to consider our American independence, what it cost so many and whether you’re willing to give a part of your life to keep it? Are you aware of how the day began and why? What it signifies and what we actually are meant to celebrate?
There is a fundamental, historic purpose to the holiday. It commemorates the adoption by the Continental Congress of our Declaration of Independence, that mighty document that is the very foundation of our freedoms, on July 4, 1776. That Declaration told the world that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
It was the birth of the United States of America.
The first celebration took place four days later in Philadelphia, where the Congress was still meeting. There was a public reading of the new revolutionary document, in front of the State House, now called Independence Hall, to the cheers of the newly free citizens. Then, from the tower the Liberty Bell rang out. The coat of arms of the king of England was taken down, and there was a joyous, shouting, exultant parade through the streets – a nation was born!
No one could have foretold the bloodshed, the sacrifice, the terrible years of war that would follow. But the dream of absolute independence, of individual freedom and a free republic was now a flame that served to burn away every obstacle and empower the relatively ragtag colonial army to face the mighty British military … and defeat them. When the soldiers of the Revolutionary Army were sent home in 1783, they carried to their hometowns the desire to celebrate their independence on July 4. And we have every year since.
Or have “we”?
What were those early colonists celebrating? They had just thrown off the oppressive yoke of a tyrannical government that treated them as bond servants. They had drawn a line in the sand and told the British king they would no longer accept “taxation without representation.” Through Thomas Jefferson’s inspired words, they declared to the whole world: “We owe our allegiance, not to a despotic ruler or his earthly might, but to God Himself, who made us in His image, and created each of us equal, with unalienable rights, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
They cried, right through the seemingly impossible conflict that followed, “We are meant to be free! We will govern ourselves! We will pay any price, even our lives if necessary, to be … independent. We will make our own laws, set our own standards, pay no homage or tax to anyone who doesn’t do our bidding as a people, a free people!”
In the years that followed that unprecedented citizen victory, a heady breeze of freedom swept through the colonies, and their appointed representatives met, prayed together and created a Constitution that would ordain the guidelines, the structure and the designated, specific restraints on their new form of government. It was, for the first time in human history, in the later words of Abraham Lincoln, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Not for the government itself.
For over a hundred years thereafter, this phenomenon called America grew and prospered and became the envy of the world. The three branches of government kept each other in check. They heard the warning of Jefferson: “Any government big enough to give you anything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” So private, independent industry thrived. Individuals started and ran their own enterprises. Each family worked to meet its own needs. Communities, good neighbors, usually came to the aid of the needy around them – voluntarily, not through government agencies.
Government, as proscribed by our founders, was to serve, not dominate, the citizens. And the citizens accepted the responsibility of electing good, moral people to do their bidding, to secure our borders, to enforce our laws and to keep us, as a nation, independent. Independent of other countries’ squabbles, laws, hierarchies and fetishes. We made our own laws, thank you, and we expected our good citizens to abide by them.
Religious? You bet. Openly, in and out of the chambers of government, expressed freely by virtually all of our leaders, even written into the state constitutions and required in the oaths of newly elected representatives. Why on earth? Precisely because it was written in our Declaration, “We are endowed by our Creator,” that our rights, our equality, come from Him. Our rights were not an earthly creation; they were granted by Heaven.
Ben Franklin warned, “Only a moral and virtuous people are capable of freedom. The more corrupt and vicious a society becomes, the more it has need of masters.” And so various amendments, called the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution to make sure that an overreaching executive or legislative branch could not curtail any of our God-ordained rights, including freedoms of speech, the press and religion.
Even the elected president was ordered – by the people, through our own expressed edict – to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” and “… to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
“We, the people,” sought and obtained independence. Our forefathers weren’t intending, ever, that a “Big Brother” government would endeavor to meet all the needs of the citizenry, but rather to preserve and defend our rights. They never envisioned a day in which half or more of our workers would be employed by the government, sustained on the backs of the independent taxpayers. A day in which an overreaching executive branch would “nationalize” industries, print trillions of dollars of valueless paper money and make us a debtor nation, buried under trillions in unpayable debt. A day in which a legislative branch would impose restrictions on our religious expression and change the very definition of marriage. A day in which 14 million illegal aliens could invade this country … and the chief executive would do nothing to enforce the laws or secure our borders.
Friend, do you realize we are perilously, almost certainly, about to lose our independence, individually and as a nation? Hear Ronald Reagan:
Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same..or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.