Two hundred forty-three years ago, a great nation declared its independence. I supply for your benefit a history lesson to help you celebrate the holiday of July 4th.
On Friday, June 7, 1776, in Cartridge Hall in Philadelphia where the Second Continental Congress was in session, a tall slender figure arose to offer a resolution that would set the path of freedom for these United States and also the world for generations to come. His resolution was simple, but yet controversial. Simply put it was that these original colonies should be free and independent of the British Crown. A heated and long-term debate ensued. The debate ultimately went into next week and the basic issue was whether the Continental Congress had the authority to approve that engaging resolution. The matter was so contentious that the question was postponed until the first of July in order that the members could consult with the peoples at their home and determine their consent. In the interim this Continental Congress appointed a committee of five to write a declaration draft to advise the world why it was necessary to have independence from the Crown. The makeup of the Committee of Five was John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. The Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress drafted and presented to the full Congress what would become America’s Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. This Declaration Committee operated from June 11, 1776, until July 5, 1776, the day on which the Declaration was published. It was decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. Although there are no remaining minutes of those meetings, or writings supporting the history, it later became believed that Jefferson was the most fluent with the pen, and the other orators like Franklin, were better with the words. Adams, who was charged with co-authoring the document pleaded with Jefferson to author it, because Jefferson was from Virginia, the most heavily populated and influential colony. Moreover, later Adams wrote that Jefferson was popular, and he, Adams was obnoxious. With Congress’s busy schedule, Jefferson had limited time to write the draft over the ensuing 17 days. Jefferson then consulted with the others on the committee, who reviewed the draft and made extensive changes. Jefferson then produced another copy incorporating these alterations.
Among the changes was the simplification of the phrase Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, which Jefferson had phrased “preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”. This was a return to wording closer to John Locke’s original description of private property as a natural right, in the phrase “life, liberty, and estate”.
On June 28, 1776, the committee presented this copy to the “Committee of the Whole” Congress, who reviewed the status of the United Colonies the following day, during the afternoon of July 2. On Wednesday, July 3, the Committee of the Whole gave the Declaration a third reading and commenced scrutiny of the precise wording of the proposed text. Two passages in the Committee of Five’s draft were rejected by the Committee of the Whole. One was a clear crystal reference to the English people and the other was a denunciation of the slave trade and of slavery itself. The condemning of the slave trade troubled Jefferson to no end. But he accepted without much debate and approved the changes. The text of the Declaration was otherwise accepted without any other major changes. Only about 400 words were deleted from Jefferson’s orginal declaration. As to the slave deletion, the reason was simple: the southern colonies depended upon the slaves to work the land; the northeast colonies depended upon the vessel traffic to transport the slaves, and that was a big economic business. So, we have the beginning of money in America taking precedence over what is morally wrong. The debate on the matter continued until late July 3rd, and then a brief adjournment delayed the vote until the text’s formal adoption until the following morning, when the Congress voted its full unanimous approval on July 4. (New York abstained from voting). When published, the world became fully informed why the United States of America proclaimed its independence.
Please read the text because it might be mindful of today’s events, or those of tomorrow:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies;
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments;
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
There became fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, all of which had a bounty out for their treason against England. The clarion call of the signing was Ben Franklin’s proclamation that we must all now hang together, lest we all hang separately. Two hundred forty-three years ago these fourteen hundred words or so have bound this country free of bondage with rights, privileges and pursuits the likes no other country enjoys. Fight to keep it free, or face the consequences.
As we close this discussion, I am reminded of the lyrics to America, the beautiful. I incorporate it here for your joy of patriotism to this great nation.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Celebrate July 4 with passion, history, exuberance, and most importantly gratitude.