Happy Birthday, America!
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.
Two-hundred and thirty-five years ago, we embarked on a remarkable experiment in government. A bunch of guys decided that they’d about had it with being a colony and the associated crap that came with it. It was a bold move, and extremely risky to those directly involved. Everyone in the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence did so with great hope for a future of independence, for a government by and of the people. They also did so keeping one cold fact clearly in mind – that by penning their names, they could ultimately be signing their own death warrants. They believed in the idea of democracy enough to go through with it.
I can only imagine what those summer months were like. A few guys – five – in a room wordsmithing a document, ink on parchment. More guys in a hot, humid room debating it. Nine of thirteen colonies voted in favor. Two opposed, one abstained and one declined to vote. The War for Independence (already underway since Lexington and Concord in 1775) took on a whole new flavor. This was a whole new game, the Declaration made it more official. In reality, most of the citizens of the colonies were indifferent to the whole thing, and the revolutionary effort was typically spearheaded by a few idealists. There was a significant portion of the population who remained sympathetic to the British Crown and Parliament.
From a single spark, a roaring fire may grow. No one involved could have foreseen what the future held for our country, and some may not have believed it if they could. Surviving our initial and weak Confederation, we then forged the Constitution, another remarkable document. From thirteen colonies to fifty states. From a few million people to over 330 million and growing. From a poor, weak, but hopful and scrappy newcomer to the guarantor of liberty all over the entire world.
From a single spark, a roaring fire may grow. The Declaration is not only one of the most famous documents known to Americans but it has served as the basis and inspiration for many more uprisings of freedom. I’ve read that when the Soviet empire disintegrated and Czechoslovakia broke away, our Declaration was read at some protest in some city as a symbolic gesture of the moment. Our ally in our War for Independence, France, not long afterward collapsed in a turmoil that ultimately resulted in a democracy. Western Europe followed in fits and starts. This century, Eastern Europe did as well. And our headlines today indicate the process is not even close to complete as the Middle East begins to examine the system we started.
From a single spark, a roaring fire may grow. Enjoy the long weekend, and quite rightly enjoy the barbecues and fireworks we plan to symbolize our time off. Both capture the essence of our country: born of fire, forged in fire, and still lighting the way for others today.
235 years ago today.