To most patriots it was not simply that they were declaring independence. It was not that solely that they were asserting their national sovereignty as a free people no longer under the authority of the Court of Saint James, no longer owing allegiance to Parliament and Crown. No, too much blood has been spilt, too many of their brethren has fallen by the musket and the cannon, had laid broken and crumbled by the bayonet and the sword. For them it was a sacred act.
The truth was the path to independence was one that had been paved long before the Declaration of Independence was conceived of or even the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. The French and Indian War had launched a series of events, altering the course of history to set the Colonies on a collision course with their Mother Country. As John Adams would observe reconciliation had long become impossible, as they looked to England and recognized that the old order had been shattered, that those who were to represent the people, yes, even the American people, “have been now for many years gradually trained and disciplined by Corruption.” Now came the inevitable amidst a people who would not relent, who looked to their rights, rights they had carried to America from the far distant shores of England, entrenched in Magna Carta, and would not compromise on their liberty.
More than anything else the offenses of the Crown and Parliament, they wove together, uniting the people in the common understanding that “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.”
Some 241 years later some of the names, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, Patrick Henry, to name a few, are remembered with reverence, while others, Benedict Arnold, Lord Dunmore John Murray, Charles Cornwallis, William Howe, Bloody Ban Tarkington, have gone done in infamy. Faded to pages of history for as many as are remembered even more are forgotten as time has marched forward unrelenting, unchanging in the course of human events. Yet everything hung on what they did. Had they not fought for our great charter of National Freedom, nothing that came after would have been possible. There would have been Constitution or Bill of Rights. The unique balance struck between National, Political and Individual freedom birthed in this nation would never have been carried to term. It would never have become that shining beacon of liberty that so many look to when they consider the meaning of our natural rights.
This is the legacy that we have been handed as the torch of the sacred fire of liberty has been passed from one generation to the next. It is our heritage, bequeathed by one generation to the next in the hope that the one to follow will not only grow in love and respect for the freedom that had been so hard fought for, but that they strengthen and preserve it. To each of us they have tasked the responsibility of extending what our independence means as we grow in our understanding of justice and equality, building on that deeper knowledge that we are free to think, to do and to be, and all that is asked of us is that we leave our country just as free, if not a little freer than those who came before us. It is a challenge to remember those words of John Adams to his wife Abigail, “Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
So, as we mark our freedom, as we commemorate our independence, proudly flying our flags as we go to our picnics, and barbecues, as we enjoy our day away from work to take in the beach or a park, taking in the beauty of this nation and its people, remember it is a time to recommit ourselves to the cause of liberty. It is our chance to once more dedicate ourselves to that sacred cause for which so many were, and still are, willing to live and die for. Ask what am I going to do to keep the spirit of 1776 alive, to stand for freedom, holding “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.”
Cherish your freedom, but more than that live in it everyday, seeking to do better and to live better.