Published: July 6, 2004
The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and edited by a committee composed of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It was printed that night for distribution to the Army and state assemblies and was the written proclamation of the motion for independence made by Richard Henry Lee on June 7 and adopted on July 2. The Declaration was proclaimed on July 9 in Philadelphia, and some historians now believe that the document wasn’t engrossed until July 19 and signed until Aug. 2, despite insistence years later by Jefferson and Adams, confirmed by records in the Journals of the Congress, that the document was signed on July 4.
It’s been told many times how the men who signed this document pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, but it bears repeating. Americans need reminding of the serious commitment made by those men. Franklin summarized the risk being taken: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
By signing this document, John Hancock and the 55 delegates were signing what was viewed by Great Britain as an act of treason, a hanging offense. They were committing themselves to winning a war whose victory was far from a foregone conclusion against a country that dominated the world’s oceans and its politics, its political and military reach greatly eclipsing its diminutive size, its soldiers some of the best in the world.
Up and down the coast, the reading of the Declaration was followed by bonfires and ringing bells, setting a precedent for Independence Day celebrations in the years to come. King George was burned in effigy in Savannah, his statue was pulled down in New York, and in Connecticut, his leaden statue was used for bullets. A crowd in Boston tore down the king’s coat of arms and burned it.
These acts lead us to believe that the hue and cry for independence was universal in the 13 colonies, but only about a third of the population supported the cause. Another third was loyal to the king, and a third stayed neutral.
The American Revolution was our first civil war. From the distance of 228 years, we must be reminded that most colonists still proudly regarded themselves as British subjects, and a break with Mother Britain was for some a dangerous, drastic step, and for others, it was unthinkable.
Folks celebrate our country’s independence from Great Britain in the tradition of bonfires and bells, with fireworks, marching bands and festivals that, in the American belief that bigger and louder are better, get more involved every year. But I fear that, as folks get absorbed in revelry and games, they pay little mind to the reason for the holiday.
The popular name for the holiday these days is Fourth of July. Many announcements have said “Fourth of July activities will be held on July 3 this year.” That sounds bizarre and could easily be corrected by calling it Independence Day, which would also remind people of its true purpose. I consider Independence Day a solemn, sacred day. I treasure the day as a time to quietly remember the people who founded our country, to study the Revolution, to play the music from the time, to picture the battles as I watch fireworks. I find it offensive that people view it as just another day to cut their grass or replace their laundry tub. I would like to see less revelry and more reflection; I would like more people to understand the motivations and beliefs of the founding fathers. Independence and freedom are serious ideas. They require thought, commitment and action.
Face painting and 5K runs are fine, but take some time to study the documents and the writings of the people who established our country. John Adams left a message for us: “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.”
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