By Mark Carpenter –
When in the course of human events. With those seven words penned by Thomas Jefferson, the world changed forever, or as the British band played at Yorktown in 1781, “The World Turned Upside Down.” A group of brave and patriotic men, all with different opinions and serving different factions, had gathered in Philadelphia and after months of haggling, negotiating, and long, hot days and nights, produced a document that this country will spend this weekend and the early part of next week celebrating.
The Fourth of July, or Independence Day if you rather, is a day where America celebrates the beginnings of its birth of freedom. That document, the Declaration of Independence, gave cause and purpose to a group of rag-tag soldiers, who rallied behind Jefferson’s words to win an unwinnable war. Today, 241 years later, we still owe those Founding Fathers an unpayable debt.
Were the men who put together the Declaration perfect? No. The document was published with slavery still intact, a compromise that had to be made to put freedom from England at the forefront, while at the same time keeping millions of Americans in chains. “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.” It took another 89 years and another brutal war to make those words totally true.
Fifty-six men assigned their names to the Declaration, many of them familiar names in American history- Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hancock-and many of them names that most do not remember- Wilson, Hall, Bartlett, Hopkins, Rodney. If you are a sharp historian, you will know that the Declaration wasn’t actually signed by all 56 until August of 1776, and next Tuesday we celebrate the day that the Continental Congress, with every one of their lives at risk, officially adopted the document.
In a July 3, 1776 letter to his beloved wife Abigail, John Adams, one of the biggest proponents for independence in the Congress, penned these prophetic words describing how America would react when they heard of the Declaration- “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 Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
If Adams were alive today, he would see that his words came true, each and every year as we all will find a show in the next few days that will find us looking to the skies to see a lot of “bonfires and illuminations.” Adams’ fireworks have become the staple of Fourth of July celebrations and are the highlight of the holiday for everyone, except perhaps some babies and dogs.
One of my Fourth of July traditions is to always watch the 1972 movie version of the original Broadway show “1776.” I have seen the stage version and the movie version hundreds of times, and I encourage you to seek it out on a channel this weekend and watch yourself. You will see some familiar faces and though they may have stretched history just a bit for the stage, you will still learn the story of the struggle that resulted in a document that will live forever.
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — 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.”
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!