As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, I am sure everyone is stocking up on the traditional holiday fare: hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, and perhaps an apple pie or two to end the festivities. People will wash down this food with gallons of soda, beer, and other libations. They will watch parades, fireworks, and patriotic concerts in parks. All of this is in the spirit of the biggest birthday party ever, celebrated once a year and alternately known as Independence Day. It is something worth marking and marking well, but sometimes (as with all holidays) the true meaning is forgotten or lost.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain, and two days later it adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, formally making the break with old King George. This is the official reason why we celebrate our freedom on the Fourth of July, but the deeper reasons are found within the document itself, the essence of which is a sacred trust, a scripture for the American people.
The first paragraph is rather prosaic, but beautiful nonetheless. Here Jefferson indicates that he will “declare the causes” that are the reason for the “separation” from England. It is in the second paragraph that we get the poetry of language that all the world remembers and recognizes as the inherent truth concerning human existence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.” Is there a more beautiful sentence ever written in English?
The rest of the document powerfully demonstrates the tyranny of the King and his minions and the necessary and compelling reasons for the declaration. Jefferson makes all the salient arguments why King George was a tyrant “unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” It is required reading for every American, those who aspire to be citizens, and people everywhere who believe in human dignity.
Unfortunately, some Americans have sometimes ignored the ideals established by this document. We can fairly ask how any man could write such a powerful edict for freedom and have also been a slave owner (as was Jefferson). We can ask how the very essence of these sacred words could be warped by so many in government over the years, and it is impossible to not feel betrayal of the trust these words originally inspired in Americans.
Still, despite all of our stumbling and those wayward individuals who have deliberately ignored this eloquent argument for freedom, its words remain a beacon of hope for all people. We should never disparage the ideals set forth in it, even if it sometime seems we have not lived up to the challenge of its mandate. As scripture it sets the bar rather high, and we are fallible human beings after all.
So this Fourth of July, as you eat that hotdog, drink that beer, and watch the rockets red glare, remember the reason for this party held every summer. It is all about those eloquent words sent to a king to let him know his dominion had ended. It’s call for freedom is a universal cry over the centuries for the rights of the individual, and its power has not diminished and the ideals set forth in it are indeed worth celebrating now and forever.
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