I write this on Wednesday night, July 1. July 4 is Saturday. We all seem to refer to July 4th as the “Fourth of July”, as opposed to the original and more appropriate name, Independence Day. When someone recently referred to Independence Day, the immediate vision that entered my mind was not parades or fireworks, but the Will Smith movie, Independence Day. That is embarrassing to admit and depressing to think about.
The Fourth of July is the day in 1776 where 56 men signed their name to a document that was considered treasonous by England. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the only future presidents that signed the Declaration. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Samuel Adams are the only other names that are recognizable to the general public. Franklin for obvious reasons, Hancock for his signature, and Sam Adams’ name made much more famous over the past twenty years for the beer.
Famous lines from the Declaration include: “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.”
And of course: “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.”
The writers continue then to cite the violations to their Rights by England and King George. But the sentence that completes the document that proves their commitment and the seriousness of their actions is: “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.”
Most of the signers were professionals – doctors, lawyers, merchants, successful farmers. Many had formal education, some did not. But they all had a common vision, desire and belief of something better, and were willing to sacrifice everything they had to achieve it. Hancock, for example, was said to have been the first to sign and did so in a fashion that the British could see his name “without spectacles”. There was already a bounty on his head.
Clearly, their pledge to each other of their Lives, Fortunes and sacred Honor based upon the protection of Divine Providence was not to be entered into lightly. Franklin was quoted during the debates going on in Philadelphia as saying, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.”
I also note that while they started their commitment with the protection of Divine Providence, they concluded it with not just their Honor, but their sacred Honor.
It took a lot of courage and foresight for these men of great character to change the course of human history and I certainly believe that it would not have been possible without the protection of Divine Providence. A study of some of the battles of the Revolutionary War will identify some moments when Divine Providence was in action.
So as we celebrate our Nation’s birthday, let’s not forget the unusual courage and character of the men who risked it all to stand up and challenge the most powerful nation on earth at the time.
“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth all the means. This is our day of deliverance.”
John Adams (1735–1826)
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
“The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War-when I really think about them they all seem about as likely as the parting of the Red Sea.”