Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Independence Day

And “happy” is the appropriate greeting for today. The Declaration of Independence was the first historical instance of the word "happiness" appearing in the founding documents of any nation.

Today in 1776, 56 men signed their names to this radical document. As a result they were, without trial, proclaimed traitors by the government and sentenced to death. These were middle class people. John Hancock was the wealthiest among them and he was not even a millionaire by today's standards. The wealthy sided with the king. Most of the signers were working people -- farmers and tradesmen primarily. None of them left behind a family fortune, or a foundation, or any other kind of financial memorial of their lives. Our nation is their legacy.

Their average age was 33 (Thomas Jefferson's age at the time). The youngest was only 20-years-old. The oldest was Benjamin Franklin, who was 83.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, all 56 of the signers were forced to flee their homes. Twelve returned to find only rubble.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, 17 of them were wiped out financially by the British government.

As a result of having signed the Declaration of Independence, many of them were captured and tortured, or their families were imprisoned, or their children were taken from them. Nine of them died and 4 of them lost their children.

As I read the Declaration of Independence, as I do each July 4, I find myself in awe of their courage. They were all aware of the likely consequences, but they did what they knew must be done. Two-hundred and thirty-four years later, I still feel the outrage they must have felt as I read through the specific governmental abuses that lead them to that critical moment.

Even more than our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence is the beginning point for the United States of America. I find it both educational and inspirational to return to the source before heading out for fireworks.

When Franklin was asked what kind of nation they were forming, he answered, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

I worry at times that we won't be able to keep it, that, in fact, we've already lost it. I worry that too many of us have declared our independence not from tyrants, but from one another, not understanding that in creating a constitutional government of, by, and for we the people, we were also declaring our interdependence.

At the signing to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Franklin famously said, "We must hang together gentlemen . . . else we shall most assuredly hang separately." 

And while we come together today to commemorate our independence from tyranny, this is also a day for embracing our fellow countrymen, for celebrating our interdependence. In that direction lies happiness.


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4 comments:

Michelle said...

I am always fascinated by the history of the Declaration of Independence and the people behind it. I don't know that I would have had courage to do what they did, but I'm so thankful they - and others - did.

PS You know it was signed July 2 and published on July 4, right? :)

Juliet Robertson said...

Thanks for this post.

I live in a country which has a squew whiff perspective of democracy...it's a fine thing so long as our queen is happy with it. And we do insist on letting our upper classes have a separate say in the House of Lords, because they're such jolly good chaps that we wouldn't want them to get upset, now.

So yes, the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable and brave document, regardless of its interpretation by some. I wonder if we will be as far sighted here in Scotland if and when we finally make a total bid for independence.

Juliet Robertson said...

Thanks for this post.

I live in a country which has a squew whiff perspective of democracy...it's a fine thing so long as our queen is happy with it. And we do insist on letting our upper classes have a separate say in the House of Lords, because they're such jolly good chaps that we wouldn't want them to get upset, now.

So yes, the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable and brave document, regardless of its interpretation by some. I wonder if we will be as far sighted here in Scotland if and when we finally make a total bid for independence.

PJ Mullen said...

I'm late to the party, but well said Tom. More people should read the Declaration of Independence to remind themselves what the day truly means.

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