For many Americans, the Fourth of July will pass with little reflection on its historic significance.
We’ll spend time with family and enjoy great food without really considering the underlying events that are the reason for our celebration.
That’s a shame because July 4, 1776, was a day for the ages. By renouncing their allegiance to the King of England and proclaiming the birth of a new nation, the brave signers of the Declaration of Independence started a chain of events that literally changed the world.
Other than the Bible, the Declaration of Independence may be the most influential writing in the last 200 years. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “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.” These powerful words started a revolution in America that led to the fall of the European monarchies and motivated the human spirit to spread democracy all over the globe.
What are these “revolutionary” concepts that changed history forever?
First, the Founding Fathers believed citizens are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of those they govern.” These were radical concepts in 1776. Prior to that time, the Western monarchies were structured on a belief that all power flowed from God to a divine King who bestowed rights to the people. Our Founding Fathers instead argued that our rights are God-given, flowing from God to the citizens, who then may choose whether to grant certain rights back to the government. This then-radical idea inspired the spread of legislative democracies around the world.
Second, certain rights are “unalienable,” meaning they can’t be forfeited. Our Founding Fathers believed that rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” cannot be taken away under any circumstances. This then-extreme idea led to the establishment of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, which has served as the foundation of individual liberty in America for more than 200 years.
Finally, “all Men are created equal.” It would be nearly another 200 years before this concept became a reality for all Americans. However, this then-revolutionary statement in 1776 was a foundation for the abolitionist movement that ended slavery, the suffrage movement that gave women the right to vote and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The Fourth of July is an extraordinary day in our nation’s history. So, fire up the grill and enjoy the fireworks. Then, take a moment to remember the lessons of independence and remind your kids, or grandchildren, why we are celebrating.