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Independence Day, 2012
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.
Yesterday was Independence Day; moreover, it was, in fact, the two hundred and thirty-sixth Independence Day since our Country was first founded. For those Americans who actually know something of their history, this national holiday is intended to celebrate and honor the passionate thirst for liberty that, almost two and a half centuries ago, pushed delegates from Britain’s thirteen American Colonies to formally declare those colonies’ newly free and independent from a distant and increasingly tyrannical Parliament and monarchy. This declaration was no small thing; the men who debated and ultimately signed the “Declaration of Independence” had — as they knew only too well — all publicly endorsed treason against the British Crown as their political cause. The often soaring language used by Thomas Jefferson when he penned the controversial document might lift men’s spirits, but it was no protection against Royal reprisals by the British army. And simply by putting pen to paper, each of these delegates knew that he had done more than sign a statement of grievances to be delivered to the English Crown; he had — in both his own eyes and in those of the King — personally and publicly endorsed a formal “writ of rebellion.” Thus, the issuance of the “Declaration of Independence” was also a declaration of war against England; in political terms, it really changed nothing so far as America’s fractured relations with Britain were concerned. On the contrary, Jefferson’s words were intended to spur American patriotic ardor for the inevitable struggle already underway, at least as much as they were meant to rebuke both the British Crown and Parliament. And, of course, many years of suffering and bloody fighting were to follow the issuance of the “Declaration of Independence,” before the former colonies — now called states — would finally succeed in winning, through force of arms, their complete and permanent political separation from England.
Signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by Jonathan Trumball
Nowadays, widespread popular reverence for both the men who signed the "Declaration of Independence" and the principles for which they were prepared to risk "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" so long ago seem to have largely faded from the public consciousness. In fact, in the eyes of many (but admittedly not all) modern Americans, not only are the backgrounds and motives of the Founders suspect, but the idea that they would lead the thirteen colonies to sever their long connection with the Motherland and risk open warfare with the greatest military power of the time over issues as seemingly trivial (and reasonable, on their face) as the modest new Crown taxes levied first by "The Stamp Act" and later by the "Townshend Act", seems almost incomprehensible to those who now tend to view the steady encroachments of a distant (and unresponsive) federal government on their individual liberties as a natural condition of modern life. Perhaps this is the depressing reality of our times; nonetheless, I find it personally inconceivable that a single one of the fifty-six signatories of the "Declaration of Independence" would agree with such a docile contemporary view. And, more than anything else, their example is the lesson that we modern Americans should take away from the Fourth of July: that liberty is precious only so long as a people value it more than they value their comfort and security; and when they come to prefer their ease and safety to liberty, then it is only a matter of time before they will no longer be free. As Benjamin Franklin, when asked as to what form the government of the newly-independent United States would take, tartly observed: "We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it."
Declaration of Independence Printable Text
Happy Independence Day, and may you all have an enjoyable holiday while, at the same time, taking a little time to reflect on the seminal events that long ago set the course of our forefathers towards war and ultimately independence from Great Britain.
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