It’s hard to appreciate independence as an American in the 21st century.
We are still benefitting today—July 4th, 2013—from the courage and bravery of a people whose chosen leaders pledged their “lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor” two hundred and thirty-seven years ago. Well over two centuries of time has passed since that particular July 4th.
(Actually, it was July 2nd, but that’s not really the point here…)
Today we live in the freedom that they fought for, and were successful in gaining.
The founders knew the value of freedom, even though they all had grown up in a culture where human slavery was an open practice for two centuries before their birth! Many of them opposed it strongly and spoke out often against it, including Thomas Jefferson, who tried to introduce a bill into the Virginia legislature to abolish slavery.
(Please read this article, The Founding Fathers and Slavery. It’s full of information that is frequently omitted from discussions about the country’s founding and the obvious paradox of the institution of slavery continuing for nearly another century more.)
They knew and understood that freedom—for all—was an essential, foundational right, given to every individual person created by God.
That is worth fighting for. And it’s worth preserving.
Listen to this, from John Quincy Adams (known as the “hell-hound” of abolition):
The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution; by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves.
Wow. That’s pretty clear. (I added the emphasis you saw above.) Adams said they were “universally” against it, with Jefferson being foremost in that “undoubting conviction”.
Because they knew freedom was so essential.
We the People of the Unites States of America have been traveling down a path towards much LESS freedom for generations now. It’s a pattern in human history; certainly we should be no different. Or maybe we should?
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 entitles 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 effect 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 shown 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.
Today, the Campbells will be reading the Declaration together, again. (It has become a family tradition to celebrate the Fourth of July.) And we will discuss the courage of the founders to stand against those who tried to suppress their inalienable rights, beginning with freedom.
(We also plan to read today from a book called For You They Signed, detailing the lives of all the signers of the Declaration.)
The 4th of July is not about fireworks. The meaning behind our holidays often are lost after only a short time of the annual commemorations.
We must not lose this one.
We are created free, and equal, and are meant to have the unconstrained rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Celebrate today what those men stood for, fought for, and many did die for: your freedom.
And thank God today that you were born here, when we were free. Not all can say that.
Happy Independence Day!
If you’d like to read more about slavery and the attempts in the 18th century to do away with it, I so highly recommend starting here (and then here), and then reading the book about William Wilberforce that that post is in reference too.