…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…”
What sort of subjugation must exist for the unthinkable to happen; a declaration of self-governance, the people’s control of their own destiny? Who did our ancestors think they were? At the time mocked and dismissed as nothing more than a “ragtag, rebel army.” Looked upon as petulant, the ungrateful subjects of a superpower. So easily dismissed by a king then, and so effortlessly maligned by some of their descendants today. Founding Fathers and Mothers, Sons and Daughters of Liberty. Americans. Us.
On July 4, 1776, a new voice was heard, faint at first, but which would grow stronger over the decades, spreading far beyond the original 13 colonies. As much as some would like to believe that July 4th is the anniversary of America’s founding; in truth it marks the single most important evolution of mankind. “Human events” brought forth a bold proclamation “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…”
A single piece of paper signed by 56 “traitors” who made the pledge “…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.”
Truth be told, these 56 patriots were in fact signing their death warrant, and committed our ancestors to a revolution that would be fought at Yorktown and Tiananmen Square. In accepting the Declaration of Independence, we as a nation were facing a global superpower and an uncertain destiny. We were a nation cast into a fog, with the Declaration of Independence our only beacon. Farmers, laborers, fishermen, slaves and “men of means.” Hardly equal in station at the time, but all would eventually be benefactors of the promise offered by the Declaration of Independence.
Remove yourself from today, and put yourself in their place, in their time, with the world they lived in. Could you truly say that you would have picked up the quill and signed your own death warrant? It is easy for us to look at our station in life today, and try to make an equal comparison to the events of 1776. We were not a perfect nation in our creation, nor are we a perfect nation today. We may never obtain perfection, but that is alright. The lofty goals of perfection have pushed this country to great achievement, but also to a civil war, in our honest desire to achieve “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for all. Four score and seven years after the Declaration of Independence was delivered, Americans would march onto a battlefield in an effort to honor the original intent of our founding charter.
A few years removed from what would be the 100th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America, the battle of Gettysburg would prove to be as pivotal a moment in time as the Declaration of Independence. Some would say the Civil War brought this country to the breaking point, and almost ended our opportunity to fulfill the promise offered to us with the Declaration of Independence. The Civil War was a tragedy that had to happen for us to advance liberty, and write the next line of our national story, so elegantly offered by Abraham Lincoln when he would proclaim after Gettysburg “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The Declaration of Independence set a high bar, during a time in which our Founding Fathers could not fully recognize the journey they put before all of us. Nonetheless, these 56 men trusted us, and believed that future generations would strive to fulfill the virtue and the ultimate glory of that simple piece of paper they signed. Our Founding Fathers had faith in us then, when they proclaimed with a “self-evident” confidence, that to truly be a free people, we must commit to the principle “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Our Founding Fathers envisioned a time when future generations would deliver on the promise of the Declaration of Independence. They did not know the path we would travel, or what human events would help to promote or hinder the ideals of liberty, but they had the faith that we would overcome the worst of human nature. They knew that through times of prosperity and challenge, that the voice of America would finally be able to sing as one, declaring “…heroes proved, In liberating strife, Who more than self, our country loved, And mercy more than life, America, America, may God thy gold refine, Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divined (America the Beautiful).”