Some Thoughts on Independence Day
Two hundred and thirty seven years ago, a group of educated, politically popular entrepreneurs and leaders got together and declared war against their country, and told their King they were starting their own nation. They endorsed a revolution against the world’s largest political power.
They listed their grievances against their government, telling their sovereign it had abused its power, had deprived its citizens of liberty, and acted immorally. Their extensive list is familiar to us, the topics and grievances familiar to what we hear today in Syria, Egypt, China, Turkey, and closer to home.
These rebels, speaking for their communities and neighbors, declared they were done with trying to reform their nation. Their grievances were so extensive, and the inability of the government to listen and respond, and to reform, had become obvious and without remedy.
So, they denounced their government, and declared their independence. They rebelled.
This was treason of the highest order. If caught, they would be hanged, and all their property would be confiscated, their families impoverished, and likely imprisoned. And the war would risk devastating their cities, their farms, everything they had worked for.
No one had ever declared independence from Great Britain before, and succeeded. “The King can do no wrong” was the major theme of politics and governance. Indeed, the King’s reign was blessed by All Mighty God, His Majesty exercising unlimited, even divine power. Laws and taxes were enacted by a parliament comprised of noblemen and wealthy businessmen, who were making huge profits from the lucrative trading laws and colonial economy of the British Empire. American colonists had no voice. And, they had discovered they had few rights.
The Empire had the world’s largest navy, and the world’s largest army. And, Britain was the world’s largest economy. The American colonies depended on British trade to sell all of their goods, and to buy the supplies and goods they needed. Trying to make their way in a world without the umbrella of the British economy was a dangerous road. They were risking everything they had for their values.
Their rebellion wasn’t popular with everyone. Many people supported the Crown, and the rebellion dragged on for seven terrible, bloody years. Cities were beseiged, New York City was burned, trade was blockaded. People starved, and thousands died of disease and the ravages of war. The British were ruthless and brutal, as they brought large armies to track down the rebels, and end the rebellion.
Yet, the flame of wanting liberty and human dignity, and self governance eventually prevailed. Sheer determination and courage won the day, and eventually Britain conceded American independence.
That new nation was not perfect, and faced enormous obstacles. Slavery, disparity of wealth, onerous taxation, the needs of justice, and a fragmented and inexperienced government burdened the young nation. And, those issues and the wide range of political thought continue to be part of our national conversation today.
Yet, there was hope. There was a shared belief that whatever we do as a nation, we will act with respect to personal opinions, we will engage in serious debate, and we will be willing to share our collective burdens. We will make our decisions, and then we will move ahead, together, as a community.
Our Founding Fathers started a revolution. They risked everything, in order to be able to live in a community where there is freedom of speech, due process of law, and respect for the opinions and rights of others.
Are we that committed to those ideals today? Are we willing to be the revolutionaries when we are called upon? Are we willing to sign our own Declaration of Independence in bold strokes, telling the King that he is wrong, and we will be free, and that we are willing to die for that? Or, have we even given that much thought, as we head out for a Fourth of July picnic, or to watch the fireworks at the park?
The words of the Declaration of Independence resound today within our national fabric. Those words have inspired people throughout the world to believe in themselves, and to take charge of their lives, to cherish life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, our challenge is to remember that revolution, and to continue to rekindle those flames of liberty and freedom, and the willingness to put all that we have on the line for the betterment of our community and freedom for all.
—Neal Lemery, July 3, 2013