As the 4th of July weekend approaches each summer, we are excited at the prospect of barbecues, fireworks and a possible extra day off work. And if you asked someone why we are celebrating, I’m sure they’d tell you because it’s the day the Declaration of Independence was signed or something close to that. But I think we need to stop the barbecues and fireworks for a moment to give some thought of how the Declaration of Independence came to be and how it affects us today.
In 1776, amidst the Revolutionary War, Congress asked a thirty-three year old lawyer from Virginia to write a document declaring why our colonies must become independent from Britain. This document was the Declaration of Independence, and the lawyer from Virginia was Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson was the true author of the Declaration of Independence, with a few tweaks from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson had earned a reputation as an eloquent voice for patriotic causes from his previous political writings, in which he supported the rights of the colonists.
The introduction of the Declaration of Independence effectively stated independence from Britain had become necessary for the colonies. The body of the document outlines grievances against the British crown, but the preamble includes its most famous passage:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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.”
Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. As the first formal statement by a nation’s people asserting their right to choose their own government, the Declaration of Independence became a significant landmark in the world’s history of democracy.
In addition to its importance in the fate of the new American nation, it also had a tremendous influence outside the United States. Together with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence can be counted as one of the three essential founding documents of the United States government.
The day we became an independent nation was filled with tremendous celebration. John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:
“… 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 predictions, over two hundred years old, are remarkably accurate…and it’s easy to see where the traditions of parades, barbecues, bonfires and fireworks came from.
Currently across the world, countries are fighting for independence. Many people are living under the rule of a harsh dictator. Wars are being fought and countless people are giving their lives for the chance of living in an independent country. Some will pass the fight on to future generations, as it is too great a task to be completed in just one.
We take it for granted we live in a country whose past generations made tremendous sacrifices so we can enjoy independence and democracy. During the parades, games and bonfires John Adams correctly predicted, take a moment to recognize the gift of the Declaration of Independence and the sacrifices made to make it possible.