In a dreadfully hot, musty meeting room during the height of summer, in the city of Philadelphia they gathered, debating the rather weighty question of whether to break away from their mother country, Great Britain.
Of course, we speak of the delegates sent to Philadelphia from the 13 original colonies in America, men who knew that by even debating the idea, much less acting on it, they endangered their fortunes, their health, even their lives. We recall some of those names as giants in our nation’s history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Hancock are among the ones we speak of with a certain level of reverence.
In all there were 56 men who signed the Declaration, and many of them lost everything. Some saw their fortunes evaporate as the British destroyed their homes and farms during the Revolutionary War. Others lost family members to sickness or to the British. A handful were killed during the struggle for Independence.
Yet, knowing this could happen, they agreed the colonies should split from Britain — the most powerful nation in the world at that time — and declare their independence. For days they hammered out the language of the Declaration, which spelled out why they felt leaving Great Britain was the right thing to do.
On July 4, 1776 — 240 years ago — they voted to accept the draft presented that day (though the signing didn’t come until weeks later).
It’s not an exaggeration to say that might be the most far-reaching act in the history of humankind. The United States became the first country with an entirely elected government, the first nation to subscribe to the ideal that those who are governed should do the governing.
The new nation had its troubles, fighting at first simply to survive, then trying to figure out how to govern itself once it gained independence. Several times America nearly split apart, finally doing so in 1861 and engaging in a brutal civil war that lasted four years. As a nation we’ve had our difficulties and committed our sins.
But today, more than two centuries later it’s easy to look back over the years and see nearly every great, significant movement forward by the world has been because of the existence and leadership of the United States. Widespread democracy, advances in technology, medicine, human rights, environmental preservation, economic improvement and the rise of individual wealth have all been phenomena created by the United States or by nations seeking to emulate America.
America continues to face many problems and challenges, but unlike what some politicians would have you to believe, it is still a great country. And tomorrow, July 4, is a day to celebrate the nation, its history and the opportunity it affords those of us who call it home.
John Adams, one of those men who signed the Declaration, wrote this to his wife, Abigail, while he was in Philadelphia during deliberations on the Declaration of Independence:
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch 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 forever more.”
While Adams was off on his dates — he was referencing the day the gathering voted to split from Britain, rather than the July 4 date on which the group official adopted the Declaration — his sentiments couldn’t be better. We hope this weekend, and especially tomorrow, is a time you and your family spend simply celebrating and enjoying this nation we call home.