July 3, 2012 — We celebrate the birth of the United States of America and the Declaration of Independence this week with a national holiday, family outings, barbecues and, of course, fireworks.
All that’s grand, but we should take the time to remember the real reason for the Fourth of July holiday.
Documenting a litany of complaints against the English government and its dread sovereign, King George III, representatives from the original 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence in July 1776 in order to justify to the world our decision to separate ourselves from England and create a new nation.
The founders didn’t actually sign the document until August 2, 1776.
Interestingly, the Revolutionary War did not begin with the declaration — armed conflict had already broken out between the treasonous rebels in the colonies and the English Redcoats more than a year before with the battles at Lexington (the famous shot heard ‘round the world) and Concord.
Those 56 brave Americans who debated, drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence were already criminals thanks to a proclamation issued by King George II seeking to suppress the rebellion more than a year earlier simply by being delegates at the Second Continental Congress.
Despite the risks, these patriots pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the cause of freedom and the eventual creation of a new nation that did not yet exist.
Although the colonists came from many lands, the colonies remained decidedly English in tradition and culture.
So it’s fitting the preamble to the Declaration of Independence continues the quest for greater freedom and the rule of law in the English tradition that began with the Charter of Liberties in 1100 and the Magna Carta in 1215.
But in addition to claiming “the separate and equal station to which the law of nature and nature’s God entitle them” the Founding Fathers boldly declared, “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. — That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
These words are among the best known in the English language, proclaiming the equality of all men and that the purpose of government is to secure our God-given and unalienable rights.
President Abraham Lincoln restated the nation’s founding principles during the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the best-known speech in the English language.
We all should take the time today to pause for a moment and reflect upon the vision of these Founding Fathers and their dedication to equality and liberty.
Had they not risked everything to sever our ties with England and begin a brand new country dedicated to these principles, the world would be a much different place. Even today these courageous men deserve our thanks and gratitude.
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