We recall our Declaration of Independence as we honor our enormous debt of gratitude to our Founders and the 1.1 million brave Americans who have sacrificed for our freedom throughout our nation’s history—and who gave that “last full measure of devotion” so that we may be free.
There has simply never been a founding document like our Declaration of Independence.
Why do I say that?
Because, far from being merely an eloquent listing by Thomas Jefferson of the abuses that early Americans suffered at the hands of the British King, it also arguably enshrines the most profound principle in 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…”
Jefferson was a brilliant man and there can be no doubt that, as he sat there in the candlelight, dipped his quill pen in ink, and began his beautiful cursive, he fully understood that this principle of God-given equality he was laying down certainly did not exist in the colonies at the time he authored the document, or likely would during the period of his lifetime. We know that this principle of equality would, in fact, not be fully realized for another 150 years in this country. But, to me, that is what makes so astounding his inclusion of such a principle in one of the two founding documents of our fledgling nation.
It’s really impossible to overstate the magnitude of what Jefferson wrote, and what he did.
That Jefferson would have the wisdom, foresight, courage, and moral foundation to boldly include the principle that—no matter when it may be fully achieved—equality was the fundamental and surpassing ideal. No nation in world history had ever included as part of the very blueprint of its government the belief that all of its citizens were created by God and all of them were created equal.
Something else I have considered over the years: Jefferson wrote that “we hold these truths to be self evident…”
That’s very important, I believe.
Jefferson had a masterful command of the language and for him to invoke the words “self evident’ in this context means he intended to place the truths forming the foundation of this principle of equality beyond debate. They were settled; Were so clear that anyone could understand and recognize them.
As such, only after Jefferson had achieved the sublime with this principle of equality did he turn to listing the various grievances and abuses perpetrated by the British King and British presence in the colonies.
He called out the “usurpations” of the British government as including: preventing the colonies from beginning to govern themselves, obstructing the administration of justice, the keeping of standing armies in colonial homes, the cutting off of trade by the colonies with other nations and one we know well—”imposing taxes on us without our consent”—as well as the conscription (kidnapping) of men from the colonies on the “high seas” and then forcing them to take up arms against the new colonies.
How did Jefferson conclude his work?
With a powerful simplicity, invoking (again) the help and blessing of God:
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
I close by noting that when the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence inscribed their signatures on that document, each knew they were committing treason against the British Crown.
Historians have determined that some of the signers were imprisoned and treated as “high value prisoners,” while others, who enjoyed great wealth in their prime, died penniless. Five signers were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. Nine fought in the War for Independence and died from wounds or from hardships they suffered. Two lost their sons in the Continental Army. Another two had sons captured. At least a dozen of the fifty-six had their homes pillaged and burned. (PBS Newshour, July 4, 2012); (Michael W. Smith, July 4, 2015)
It is in remembrance of this great courage and sacrifice that we celebrate the 4th of July.
Long may we live lives worthy of the blood, sweat, tears and lives that were willingly placed on our behalf on the Altar of Liberty.
Happy 4th of July!
(Royal Alexander was a staff member to the late U.S. Representative Clyde C. Holloway of Louisiana’s 8th congressional district, since disbanded, who also served as chairman of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. He was also a member of the Republican State Central Committee of Louisiana from 2008-2012. He is an attorney.)