It was today, in 1776, that the United States was born. The 13 soon-to-be states represented in the Continental Congress, voted unanimously (with New York abstaining) for Virginia's resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee, that claimed:
These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.
A concise, but full political decapitation from Great Britain and its monarchy. Separating from a royal sovereign was unprecedented in the history of the world and its causes. Who can suggest what it must have felt like for those men to literally put their necks on the line? For as Benjamin Franklin said:
We must now all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.
There must have been at least a momentary silence in reflection of the magnitude, then the chill of the what have we done and what do we do now?, before these very learned yet practical men regained themselves to muster the practical duties of initiating a new nation: For how many people in all of mankind can claim to have broken absolutely with all that had been known of governance to establish something something completely different, something not yet even contemplated, and chart for themselves and future generations an unheard of self governance?
More than 230 years later, we take light-hearted amusement at Dr. Franklin's humor. At the time, it was gallows humor. When the 5o-plus who amended, then voted to adopt, the Declaration of Independence two days later (it wasn't signed by all until August), their lives truly were at risk. By participating in Congress and signing the Declaration, they created their own treason warrants, knew it, and offered all for what they believed . . .
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.
These men are very easy to take for granted today, reduced as they are to portraits, cash and actors portraying them. What they did seems so easy, so inevitable, as if watching a movie where we've seen the ending. But it was nothing like that. It truly was uncommon courage to tell the biggest guy on the block to leave, we're taking over and leave the signed note on his door. The World Turned Upside Down, indeed.
John Adams and many others figured this was the day that would be celebrated for generations:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.
Separation was no result of political machinations as we know them today. This was a long, thoughtful, evolutionary decision. The Continental Congress met in 1774, after years of British abuses, to bring a unified front for the colonies' grievances and petitions to Parliament. The Continental Army was created and engaged the British long before "Independency" was decided. There were many in Congress who fought against separation and, in the country, many were opposed or at least indifferent to the notion. In the end, Independence was the only course. Only today does it seem predestined. The Declaration was the legal brief explaining to the world — complete with the "Facts" of the case and the jury's decision — the action of July 2:
. . . a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
If possible, read the Declaration in its entirety this weekend, preferably on the 4th. It puts that July 2 vote into perspective, puts you into the minds of those who adopted it and gives you an appreciation of what they did, how they did it and who they stood up to. It will give you pause and reflection and meaning, and kindle your nerves and a subtle emotion.
Then, when you can steal a minute of thoughtfulness as the fireworks explode overhead, during the band's patriotic medley, a moment away from the grill or during a break in the game, just ponder its words: "When in the course of human events . . . ." and what and how those events unfolded and what they mean for us today. It will bring fulfilllment and meaning to your holiday, whether you partake in celebratory festivities or cool relaxation.
From The Family Foundation of Virginia, please accept our wishes for a safe, happy and fun Independence Day weekend.