July 4 is this Saturday, a holiday Americans look forward to all spring, even in this year of the coronavirus pandemic. It marks the 244th anniversary of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence after the delegates to the Second Continental Congress signed the document. The Declaration proclaimed the independence of the thirteen colonies in America and was, in a sense, no more than a recognition of the existing state of affairs.
Fifty-six members of the Congress gave final approval to the resolution July 4, and it was read publicly for the first time.
The First Continental Congress, which met in September 1774 in Philadelphia, was not intended to make laws, but to air the colonies’ grievances to Parliament.
The Congress wanted Great Britain to give back all the rights and liberties which the government had systematically stripped away from the colonies ever since the first English colonies were established in the New World.
By June of 1776, Great Britain had not acted wisely with the colonies in addressing these grievances, and congressional delegate Richard Henry Lee of Virginia declared that “these United Colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.”
Largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration expresses the essence of his own personal political philosophy.
Briefly, yet in simple and elegant terms, Jefferson put forth the idea “that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It seems strange, in this day and age, to reflect that the Declaration of Independence does not express the spirit of many, as seen in the actions which have taken place in America in the past few months.
Human nature, being what it is, it is perhaps inevitable that there should be a large number of people in every country devoted to the established order. And human nature, being what it is, there are others who are determined, no matter how long it may take, to destroy the established order and replace it with something unlikely to really bring about a desired utopia.
The admitted defects in government are due more to men and women who favor radical change and this year, seemingly more than ever.
Adjustments are needed from time to time in government. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution explain how, and it is not rooted in radical ideology.
Taking time to actually read the historic Declaration of Independence celebrated this week will be a good thing.
Knowing of the importance of what had taken place on July 4, 1776, delegate Abraham Clark of New Jersey later said of the Declaration that “to this we pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
(adapted from the Eureka Sentinel, 1950)