I hope this will give anyone who is reading this and is not from the U.S. an idea of what we're celebrating, and anyone who is from the U.S. a reminder.
What exactly are we celebrating?
On July 4, 1776 representatives from Great Britain's thirteen American colonies signed this document:
This is the United States' Declaration of Independence. The colonies felt that Great Britain, especially their king, George III, had treated them unjustly, denied them basic rights to which they were entitled, and ignored their petitions for resolving these issues. This document detailed all of their grievances and culminated with their declaring themselves a new and independent nation.
However, it is not only our independence that we celebrate on this day, but also our freedom. This Declaration of Independence would have been an unremarkable event in history if the freedom sought by the men who drafted and signed it had not been won, defended, and protected throughout this nation's history. An event equal in importance to the Declaration was the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in which representatives once again met -- including many of the same men who had signed the Declaration -- and, over the course of four months of passionate debate forged our Constitution, which shaped our government in a form that has kept it from becoming too powerful and safeguarded our freedom.
Following are the beginning and ending of the Declaration. I recommend reading them, even if you've read them before. It begins with this:
"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.It closes with this:
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 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."
"... 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."Over the seven years of war that followed, many of the men who signed this document did indeed lose some or all of those things they pledged -- but they secured this nation's independence, and, thereby, its freedom.
Now, 235 years later our independence is secure, but we must always fight to keep our freedom. And to my fellow Americans I say, should we not be as dedicated to this task as the men who signed that document?
Happy Independence Day, and God bless America!
Author of the Declaration of Independece
and 3rd President of the United States
- Check out an excellent resource on the Declaration of Independence at ushistory.org, including the full text
- Visit the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's site on the Declaration, where you can print a copy of the Declaration with your own signature added!