Next Saturday is Independence Day. When our founders signed the historic Declaration of Independence, effective July 4, 1776, the American colonies had already been at war with Great Britain since the battles of Concord and Lexington in April 1775.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary penner of the Declaration. He called it “an expression of the American mind,” intended to “place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent.”
Thomas Jefferson’s elegant words ring out across 244 years to inspire us again. “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.”
The premise of the Declaration of Independence is profound. Given the people’s Rights by their Creator, it follows that “government derives its just power from the consent of the governed.” Abuse of that power justifies the governed to alter or abolish that government.
The Declaration was a scathing indictment of King George III and his myriad abuses of power perpetrated against the American colonies.
“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 the 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 do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
The final sentence of the Declaration reads “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.” With these bold words, the signers knew they were signing their lives away if the revolution failed.
Fortunately, for them, American Patriots, led by Gen. George Washington, with help from the French army and navy, beat the British and won the war.
The USA has come a long way in 244 years. From the Declaration of Independence, and all the other improvements through war and peace, trials and tribulations, tragedies and triumphs, “We the People” are still striving to “form a more perfect Union.”
Even in these trying times, we need to honor Independence Day. We also need to re-dedicate ourselves to making America an ever better place to live. That means being active, informed citizens, worthy of those Americans who’ve gone before.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.