July 4th & What It Really Means
It has become evident to me that many today consider our national holidays as an opportunity to host friends, barbecue and attend sales at the mall. That’s all well and good. However, we need to refocus on what these holidays mean and why they are celebrated in the first place.
July 4th is more of the above with fireworks. But, does everyone really understand that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th 1776? And what did it actually do?
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against the King of England in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It announced to the world that the 13 American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as sovereign states and no longer a part of the British Empire.
The most famous version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is popularly regarded as the official document, is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, DC.
The sources and interpretation of the Declaration of Independence have been the subject of much scholarly inquiry. The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III of Great Britain and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution.
Having served its original purpose in announcing independence, references to the text of the Declaration were few for the new four score years. Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric in the Gettyburg Address of 1863. Since then it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly in its second sentence:
“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.”
This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language,” containing the most potent and consequential words in American history. Our country is defined by documents such as the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and our Constitution. Many have fought and died to protect and defend the principles set forth in these documents and, as a country, we need to reflect on their meaning and respect their authority. There’s nothing wrong with fireworks, barbecues and sales at the mall as long as we never forget and respect the words and deeds of those who established this great nation.
Have a safe and meaningful 4th of July.