Saturday, July 04, 2009

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 truly 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 (Jefferson's age at the time). The youngest was only 20-years-old. The oldest was Ben 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 I find myself in awe of the bravery of these men. They were all aware of the likely consequences, but they did what they knew must be done. I find myself experiencing the same type of outrage they must have felt as I read through the specific governmental abuses that lead them to this critical moment.

Even more than the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence is the beginning point for our nation. I've found it both educational and inspirational to return to the source before heading out for fireworks.

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

And with courage we will, especially with happiness at stake.

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