July 4, 1776
We rightly celebrate American independence on July 4th every year because it was on July 4 in 1776 that the leadership of the colonies publicly declared in writing the intention of the North American colonies to break free and form a new nation. The reasons for the break were declared in the publicly available document and the fundamental nature of the new nation was also set forth. This declaration did not make a new nation; a fierce war for independence was required first because the British did not want to let go of the economically valuable colonies. Nevertheless, the path to freedom was publicly set upon when the document was signed and released for all to read including those in Britain. This document is called the Declaration of Independence, and by writing and signing it, the men who founded the country put their lives on the line.
The path to the break with Mother England was a long one that had many off ramps which were not taken. The period around 1607 when the first English speaking Europeans arrived was a long time ago by 1776 and the original 300 people who arrived and were born in Europe had grown into 2.5 million people, most of whom were born in North America. There were far more ethnically mixed as there had been intermarriage between the various European ethnicities (Germans marrying Irish, Scots marrying Dutch, etc.) but also there were mixed race white and black people and there were assimilated Native Americans of all kinds.
The North Americans had little interest or even much knowledge about the affairs of George III in Britain. The king was suffering some sort of blood disorder by this time which effected his personality, and the people around him were jockeying for power without regard for the drift that was happening in far away New York or Virginia. Taxes were levied on the colonies and objections in the colonies about paying taxes without political representation in the Parliament were not addressed. The educated men of North America were not prepared to let the neglect from Britain go on forever, and the idea of independence finally gained favor in influential circles. Military clashes began in 1770 in Boston, and anger over British military misuse of power was spreading. If the British could have taken action to pull back from the war that was coming, they did not take it. After a time, the political leaders in the state governments of the colonies decided they wanted to be free of the mother country, and all that was left to decide was how, why, and when. By 1776, those matters were ready to be revealed and the march was on.
In my recent book of American history, available here, I wrote this:
The Declaration of Independence, the formal document authored by Thomas Jefferson, captured the American Revolutionary ideals nicely. It listed twenty-seven grievances against the royal government, all of which had to do with the unrestrained use of British power, including the murder of colonists by uncontrolled British military units. It is a remarkable document that describes a people fatigued by an unrestrained authority that wielded its power in an arbitrary, capricious manner. It describes a people who desired to live under a restrained government and recognizing the rights of individuals to live in peace and security.
As the Declaration of Independence describes, the British monarchy provided neither the peace nor the security the colonists wanted. The preamble to that document states: “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…”The Educated Citizen’s Guide to essential American History, page 16
The words in the Declaration of Independence are transcendent in meaning and should be revered for all time because they represent the penultimate status that all humans longed for in the long march up from tribalism. Leaving aside the people and circumstance in which the document was created, consider the implication of these ideas.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…” means that the ideas are timeless and existed before humans could implement them.
The text of “… that all men are created equal..” lifts humanity out of the depraved state of nature where tribe and caste were all that mattered.
The ideas about humanity’s nature is captured here: “… that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” means that ALL people everywhere have worth and a status that should be respected and further, anyone who does not respect their status is violating the prerogatives of the Creator.
And finally, the purpose of government is captured here: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” It is here that we are challenged to have a government who’s purpose is not to redistribute wealth or provide for people or even feel our pain, etc. The purpose of government is to secure our rights and we are to get all the rest life has to offer on our own. And further, the government has the legitimate right to do these things because it exists with the consent of those who live within it’s framework.
The text of the Declaration of Independence was written primarily by Thomas Jefferson and it is his handwriting we see on the original document, but in the larger sense, it matters not if it was written by Jefferson, or a man, or a white man, or anyone else. It is the ideas that matter, and the men that wrote down these ideas took them very seriously. The nation that went forth after 8 years of war where 25,000 men were killed has gone further than any previous organization of people to see those ideas translated into practice. Has war-torn Europe, or Russia, or China, or India, or any other nation contributed so much to humanity’s advance?
The United States has always had detractors because the founding ideals were not, and still are not, universally respected. Not everyone believes that all men are created equal, or that the purpose of government is to secure the rights of the citizenry. There are still many who long to see their caste, their tribe, their clique, rule over others. They think the purpose of government is to acquire and use power. These forces have proven time and again that they will use any means to defeat the implementation of the US ideals, and one of those means is to twist the founding of the country to mean something other than what is captured in the plain and easy to understand language of the Declaration of Independence. These are the people who declare, against all evidence, that the US was created to propagate slavery and that the wealth of the nation was created by slaves, and still is. These nihilistic assertions are preposterous on their very face and have no evidence, while the 246 year history since July 4, 1776 confirms the aspirations of the country.
There is no country on earth like the United States, and none likely to become like the United States anytime soon. There are wonderful countries and cultures around the globe, and I admire those countries and cultures as well, but it has been the United States that has done more to advance and defend individual rights and liberties than any other country, and today is the day we celebrate it’s beginning.