Two Hundred and forty three years ago, the United States celebrated its first Independence Day. It was July 4, 1776 and the Continental Congress led by John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence.
The Liberty Bell rang so much that it developed a crack and the wild celebrations included parades and fireworks. Not really.
Congress actually passed the resolution declaring our independence on July 2nd. July 4th is the day that the Declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson and amended by a committee of 5, was adopted.
The signing of the official version of the document was not completed until August of that year. The Liberty Bell that sits in Philadelphia today had already been cracked for a decade or more.
With news traveling so slow, people did not find out about the signing until much later and any real celebrations came about the following year. This however, represents the beginning of one of our most important founding concepts and one that established the notion that the people have the first and last say on what and who is to govern them.
It is the genius of Thomas Jefferson that creates the expression of the principles that underlie our democratic institutions. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he writes, “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.”
These foundational words are echoed in the preamble to the Constitution that went into effect on March 8, 1789. “We the people of the United States,” it states, “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”
The stated purpose of government is cemented into the deepest part of our creed when President Lincoln made a short but powerful speech at the Gettysburg battlefield on November 10, 1863 that begins with “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal,” a reference to the Declaration of Independence 87 years before. This most important speech ends with the words, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new burst of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This meaning is particularly significant at the present time when division and tyranny are at our door step and people are not always valued as people. Independence Day celebrates them and their right to have a proper say in the affairs of the country.
I understand that our President is planning to make this July 4th celebration all about himself. That is an action normally associated with those that ignore or do not value our history and the meaning of freedom, equality and liberty.
The democratic principles espoused by our founding fathers are not promises about a future that may or may not become a reality. They are a call to action about an experiment that requires hard work and sacrifice to succeed.
The democratic experiment dictates that success is always temporary because this way of life requires constant vigilance, participation and special attention. Lapses in our involvement can cause a loss of voice.
Celebration of July 4th is all about us. It could be no other way.