Today is the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This is a special day for Americans, arguably the most important holiday of the year.
The American colonies, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations” brought about petition, protest, tax protests, and finally armed conflict between the British army and American militias, the thirteen united States of America finally formally declared independence from Britain.
This was a tad more dramatic than the recent Brexit vote in the UK! In early June of 1776 Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in the Continental Congress to declare independence from the British government. This was postponed, but a committee was set up to draft a declaration of independence, with Thomas Jefferson as its head.
On July 2, twelve of the thirteen colonies voted to declare independence from Britain, with New York abstaining (neither voting for or against it). On July 4th, 1776 the declaration of Independence was officially adopted and signed by John Hancock and Charles Thompson, who were the president and secretary of Congress.
New York gave her assent later in July, and an official parchment copy of the declaration was written up an titled “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America”. This copy was signed by the majority of the signatories on August 2nd and by a few later on. (No, everybody did not sign of July 4th). This is the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, and is the one on display in Washington, D.C.
Note something about the title. The “u” in united is not capitalized. That is because at this point there was no formal agreement or governing charter between the thirteen colonies. They were thirteen united States in unofficial association against a common enemy, not the United States of America.
Only after ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 did we have an actual national/federal government formally titled the United States of America. We fought (and won) most of the American Revolution as a voluntary association of states with no central taxing power over the states.
(For more information on the history of unanimous Declaration, please see the book The Signers Of The Declaration Of Independence by Ferris and Morris, originally published by the National Park Service).
The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the universal right of man to live free from an oppressive government. It proclaimed our right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” -not any right to a meal ticket, housing, or health care from a paternalistic government.
The Declaration gives a long list of the colonist’s grievances with the king. Included is that he had dissolved their legislative bodies, imposed taxes without American consent, deprived them of trial by jury, held mock trials, abdicated their protection, and hired mercenaries (Hessians) to subjugate them.
It also indicted the king, in that he had “erected a multitude of new Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”. (Does that not sound like the United States government after 1913, and especially after FDR?)
One aspect of the Declaration that is not often focused on is paragraph 29. Paragraph 29 is part of a list of grievances against the king of Britain, and leveled the charge that: “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages…”
In addition to the struggle against the British government and its Redcoat army -the British were attempting to do two things: first, to cause the Indian tribes to attack Americans and second, to promote slave rebellion. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, even offered any male slave of an American rebel/patriot that would run away and bear arms for Britain his freedom!
Our American ancestors were facing more than formal warfare by uniformed soldiers of a recognized European government. They were facing the potential of Indian raids, slave revolts, and race warfare -all instigated against them by the crown of Britain.
The Founders, all of whom were white males, were fighting for more than liberty. They were fighting to secure the existence of their people and a future for their children.
I have already read the Declaration this morning, and I intend to read it yet again today. The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest political documents ever written, a testament to Thomas Jefferson’s genius and eloquence.
The 4th of July is the day Americans celebrate our independence from British royal authority.Or rather it is the day we officially do so. Patriots remember the American Revolution all year long. Furthermore, most Americans do not celebrate the 4th for what it is; to them it is just a day off from work with a cookout and maybe some fireworks.
Most present day Americans know little about the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the formation of our constitutional republic.
I have written this article to help people better understand what the true meaning of the 4th of July is and why it still matters today, 240 years later. If people actually read the Declaration, they will better understand why we fought. They might even begin to realize that the U.S. government has drifted far from its founding principles.
I hope that before you attend a cookout, fireworks display, or partake in other mindless festivities with your acquaintances, that you think a bit about the Declaration and the men who bled to give us America.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Joseph Charles Putnam of Orange County, Indiana. All rights reserved.