Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Interdependence 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-five 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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Unknown said...

I was just realizing this morning that this is officially my saddest Fourth of July, even sadder than when George Bush was in office because I at least had hope that things would turn around when he left office. That was when I thought the problem was with our leaders and not the people. Thanks for the post. It cheered me up thinking about the forefathers. They really had it going on, didn't they? The pursuit of happiness....sounds like a reason to legalize gay marriage to me!
Happy 4th, Tom. You frequently make my day.

Plover said...

I know this may be an unpopular view, but I think that it's important today also to remember the people whose land this was before Europeans took it (violently) for themselves. And that the 'independence' we talk about today was tyranny for others. I'm not trying to shame anyone for looking for the good messages from our history or anything, but I do think it's important to remember, and to remember out loud. Ok, that's all.

Scott said...

Thanks, Tom, for these words.

herewegrowmama said...

Thank you for this unlifting post! Cynicism has become so popular that I sometimes forget the amazing people who started this holiday. I think next year we'll do something more for it but tonight we're reading the Declaration of Independence.

danielle said...

Love this- And the thoughtful photos you chose to go with. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!