|Anno Domini: Independence, an ideal worth celebrating|
|July 03, 2013 Jerry Purvis|
It was 237 years ago when a group of British colonists living in America became the radicals of their day. In a world where most people lived under the dictatorship of tyrants and kings, this group of 56 men laid everything on the line, pledging “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
This radical idea they believed was that all men are created equal; that men are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And inalienable rights, given by the Creator, cannot be taken away by man or government.
What they drafted was the Declaration of Independence. And every signer knew he would face treason charges and probably the noose for what the British surely called an act of sedition.
We know the familiar names who signed Thomas Jefferson’s document – Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock. But many other names are lesser known.
Lewis Morris lost his entire estate when it was destroyed by the British. Carter Braxton lost his shipping company to the British Navy. And Richard Stockton, once a prominent judge, was dragged from his bed and tortured by British soldiers.
Of this group of 56, nine died in the Revolution, five were captured by the British, 18 had their homes looted and burned, two were wounded in battle and two lost their sons during the war.
These men were community leaders, business owners, judges, lawyers and inventors. But they were willing to sacrifice their lives, fortunes and sacred honor so that today we could live freely in a nation where we have the right to stand up and speak out. Any voice that would tell us otherwise is illegitimate – no matter whose it is.
The colonists actually declared their independence on July 2, 1776. It was on July 4 when the Second Continental Congress officially approved this Declaration of Independence. So when signer John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, on July 2, he thought it would mark our independence. He wrote the day should be “celebrated by succeeding Generations, at the great anniversary Festival with Pomp and Parade … Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other.”
We still celebrate with pomp and parade and illuminations. In fact, picnics seem to be the default activity for Americans. Nothing wrong with that, but we can sometimes forget the high cost of our independence.
Civic holidays are observed to teach about our country and the meaning of independence and citizenship. When Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” which also included women; he was stating a self-evident truth. That truth said there was no such thing as a natural ruling class, although many in government might think otherwise.
It only took Jefferson a few days to write the Declaration, but it became a document for the ages. In them he laid the philosophical bedrock for our Republic.
Jefferson wrote on that topic again near the end of his life. He stated that “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.”
Oddly, Independence Day is about the only holiday we call by its date – as in “Happy Fourth of July.” Not many people would say “Merry December 25th.”
In recent years, it’s become more common for people to spend at least a part of July 4 re-reading the Declaration of Independence. That’s a good thing.
A modern day truism states that elections have consequences. So if we want to honor those 56 men who pledged all they had for the cause of independence, we should take responsibility for what’s going on around us. Make it a happy Independence Day.