“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
John Adams penned those words on July 3, 1776, in a letter to his wife, Abigail. On the previous day, after months of political wrangling, the Continental Congress had passed a resolution officially breaking ties with England and declaring the united colonies of America to be independent states. On the following day, the Congress finalized the language of a formal letter announcing the decision and the reasons for it. Adams expected that it would be the adoption of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution that would be remembered and celebrated, not Thomas Jefferson’s declaration. But, as it was Jefferson’s letter that was used as the official announcement of Congress’ action, and as the letter had the date, July 4, 1776, prominently posted at the top, it was this date that the people connected with the act, and which they have celebrated for 237 years.
Like most of our national holidays, the meaning and significance of Independence Day has been lost for most Americans. While they’re happy to take the day off from work, wear a patriotic T-shirt and eat hamburgers and potato salad from red, white and blue paper plates, too many don’t really grasp the historical significance of what they’re celebrating.
Fighting between British troops and colonial forces had been ongoing for over a year, with tensions building for several years prior to “the shot heard ’round the world” at the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Even so, there were many in the colonies – some say a majority – who remained loyal to the king and their English heritage, and who still hoped for a resolution to the conflict that would retain the colonies as part of the British empire.
Thankfully, there were visionaries like Adams, Jefferson and Lee who recognized that reconciliation was not possible or desirable. As Jefferson stated in a letter in November of 1775, “Believe me, dear Sir: there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.”
These men were not seeking power, wealth, or prestige; they were seeking liberty and self-governance for their fellow citizens and their posterity – at the risk of their wealth, power and prestige. The two lines in the Declaration of Independence I find the most profound are the opening of the preamble and the closing statement. In the preamble, the framers state the principles that the Declaration – and eventually the nation – is based upon:
“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 in the conclusion we get a glimpse of these men’s resolve, faith and commitment:
“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.”
Today it’s difficult to find anyone in politics willing to pledge anything beyond other people’s money, and even rarer to find one who places his faith in God and his fellow countrymen. The greed, corruption and degenerate political philosophy of the current crop of politicians make it easy to be cynical and pessimistic about the future of our country – and the several states that combined to create it. The failure of national “leaders” to understand and appreciate the value of individual liberty and the importance of restraint on government power can lead to the conclusion that nothing short of a resumption of the Revolutionary War can restore the republic to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the rule of the Constitution. But then we see that leaders in a number of states are approaching their own declarations of independence from the usurpers in Washington, and even county and city officials have begun mounting resistance to overreaching within their own state governments. These actions of resistance could become the engines that push the national politicians back onto the tracks and restore the rule of law and the pre-eminence of liberty in our nation.
As Americans, we should celebrate Independence Day every day. We must teach our children about the value of faith and freedom, and never forget the commitment and sacrifices of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, their fellow citizens who trusted them to lead them into war and the millions who have fought, suffered, sacrificed and died to protect and promote the principles and promise embodied in that document and the nation it launched.
The Knox family grieves with the friends and families of the 19 wildland firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots crew who lost their lives fighting to protect our friends and neighbors in the Yarnell, Ariz., area on June 30, 2013. Our thanks, tears and prayers are with them.