- January 25, 2023
When the Declaration of Independence was presented to the residents of the thirteen English colonies in the midsummer of 1776, there was not just strong support for the action but also a response from the American people that the day should be remembered. It is no wonder. Our early ancestors knew their history, and they
When the Declaration of Independence was presented to the residents of the thirteen English colonies in the midsummer of 1776, there was not just strong support for the action but also a response from the American people that the day should be remembered. It is no wonder. Our early ancestors knew their history, and they realized that what had been building for years was extremely significant. A population aligned to a sovereign was breaking away, but not to serve another king or monarch, but something entirely different. What we take for granted today was totally unheard of in the later part of the 18th century. The colonies wanted to combine their governments together and form a republic — a nation ruled by law and not a monarch, designed for the sake of the people, by the people, for the people.
It is hard for us today to realize how truly revolutionary the Declaration of Independence really was. For literally thousands of years, governments were overthrown and replaced with a new king or monarch who would take the place of the former one. With a brief blip in history in Ancient Greece, which practiced a form of democratic government, for all intents and purposes, monarchical government was all the world ever knew.
The American colonies did not want to overthrow King George III or declare their own king. Rather they had a radical new idea. It would be a republic, one in which was governed by a fixed law (the Constitution, as yet unwritten) and one in which the people themselves chose their governmental leaders.
Despite the grievances with England, however, there was a very big hurdle that needed to be addressed. Much of the populace of the thirteen colonies had strong Christian convictions, and this included the divine right of kings. Based on the teachings in the New Testament to ‘submit to the ruling authorities,’ many believed it would be heretical to break away from the British king and Parliament.
This was a conundrum that was directly addressed in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. The first 300+ words of the document state that the colonists do not just have the right under God’s authority to throw off this government but actually have the duty to do so. Authority that is despotic and contrary to the purpose of government, which is to provide “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” is one that is no longer one that must be obeyed.
The irony for the British people was they also had problems with their kings a century before and in 1689 had adopted a Bill of Rights that was a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England. Among other things, it established certain basic civil rights that the Crown must abide by. Thomas Jefferson borrowed from this document in writing the Declaration of Independence to hit home to Mother England that of all countries, England should appreciate what the Americans are asking for and why.
After the War of Independence was over, July 4th grew into something special. It united the nation as it continued to grow westward and even when it was tearing itself apart in a horrible civil war.
Shortly after that war, June 28, 1870, to be exact, the US Congress decided to create “federal holidays” to officially give government employees the days off that almost everyone else already had. Three of the four original holidays were traditionally popular events: New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. The only one that was different was the fourth holiday — July the Fourth.
Just six years short of a century of existence, and after a terribly brutal civil war, our leaders knew that this day must — MUST — be remembered and cherished and celebrated. That day brought us the cornerstone of our democracy that would build a country. And since that time, it has inspired people all over the world, nearly one hundred countries at last count, that have declared their own “Declaration of Independence” and sought to reproduce that bedrock base that has kept the United States “united,” for two and half centuries.
As a country right now, it is true that we are struggling with defining what we mean by “rights” and even “freedom.” Truth be told, we have debated these concepts since our nation’s very beginning. But the reason we can discuss and debate and differ on these ideas is because the foundation that our country was built on is one that is rock solid.
We were given a special day every year so we wouldn’t forget it.