By Rick Manning
July 1, 2, 3 and 4 are perhaps the four most consequential dates in American history. The second President of the United States and one of the authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams believed that July 2 would be known as our nation’s birthdate, as it is when the Continental Congress actually voted for independence. It was that courageous vote which was the act of rebellion setting the Revolutionary War and indeed the events of the past 243 years careening forward.
However, the actual document that is known as the Declaration of Independence was not finalized and signed until July 4, and the heading of it, In Congress, July 4, 1776, is what became the official demarcation of the formation of our new nation.
Primary author Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece is an incredible statement of individual rights, and it forms the very DNA of America. It is not only a statement of separation but a founding principle of individual liberty written to provide the true beacon of hope for the people of a new nation. The Declaration begins by explaining its purpose:
“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.”
And then continues with the principles which America has aspired to throughout our history: “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 fifty-six words, signed by fifty-six men, not only launched a revolution but changed the course of mankind.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident” meaning that they are so obvious that there is no reasonable dispute about them. “That all men are created equal” – no equivocation, men and choosing to expand this term to the generic human, are created with the same rights. “That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” equal men given by God rights which cannot be stripped away from them by government or other people. Free men, not serfs or supplicants with the same rights as any other man no matter how nobly born. “That among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” free to live our lives ruled only by the limitations of our own abilities and the social compact that we cannot abridge others similar freedoms. The freedom to pursue happiness, but not a guarantee of happiness.
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Government secures these rights, it doesn’t grant them, and cannot abridge them. In fact the only rationale for government found in the American DNA is to protect God-given rights with that government getting that power from the vote of the people.
Fifty-six inspired words that lay out the essential nature of Americans. And once those words are understood, there can be no mistake about why the United States of America has been the most powerful force for freedom in the history of humanity.
A nation determined to spread the light of freedom to those who have none. But there was another, later, darker July when the survival of our nation and the dream of liberty was in doubt. Abraham Lincoln harkened back to our nation’s founding in describing the meaning of the immense sacrifice at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1 to July 3, 1863 when he dedicated that battlefield in the Gettysburg Address in November of that year: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is considered one of the great speeches in history, but it is more than a speech. It is a call to action to every American then and indeed today, to remember those who have fallen for freedom, whether at Little Round Top in Pennsylvania, the Battle of Belleau Woods near the Marne River in France, on Omaha Beach, on Iwo Jima, at the Chosen Reservoir in Korea, Que San, or Fallujah, Americans have died for the sacred liberties which we enjoy.
Because, to repeat Lincoln, “[T]hat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people , for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” His call to defend and expand freedom is every bit as relevant today as it was 156 years ago. The fight for liberty is every generation’s to win. And while the challenges always seem overwhelming in real time, with God’s blessing, freedom will prevail. If that flame is to be put out during our time as its protectors, let us know fully in our hearts that we did everything possible to keep it burning.
As you celebrate this Independence Day, share the freedom vision of the Declaration and Lincoln’s determination to keep it alive.
Preserving liberty is worth the risk.