My wife and I were out today and a very kind lady wished us a “happy 4th.” At that moment I was determined to write this post because most Americans seem to have forgotten the reason we observe Independence Day, or have never been taught the reasons at all. There has been some discussion lately in our anti-American pop culture about the Constitution and ideas of liberty being “obsolete,” so I want to provide some facts related to Independence Day and the founding of this nation. I will attempt to be as impartial as possible, but I must disclose that I find the Constitution to be the greatest political document created by man and the revolutionary period in history to be the most unique.
What is Independence Day?
Independence Day was created as a federal holiday only in 1941, but Americans had been celebrating their Independence dating all the way back to the Revolution. In fact, Independence Day was celebrated in Philadelphia in 1777 by setting off fireworks. The reason we celebrate Independence Day is to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This was the significant political event that brought the relationship between the American colonies and Great Britain to a breaking point. Though the war with Great Britain had been going on for more than a year, signing this document effectively changed a fight for colonists’ rights as British citizens into a war of independence from Britain.
Why do we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th?
Like most political processes, the political act of independence did not occur in one day. Only the final passage and signing of the Declaration of Independence took place on July 4th, which is why we celebrate the event on that day. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee presented a resolution in Philadelphia to absolve the colonies from allegiance to the King. This resolution was much discussed, but not acted upon immediately. However, the resolution was the impetus to enlisting Thomas Jefferson to pen a formal document that would sever the political ties between Great Britain and the colonies for good. On July 2, 1776, Lee’s resolution was adopted by 12 of 13 colonies. After some minor revisions the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed on July 4th, after 9 of the colonies voted in favor of it.
Why is the historical significance of Independence Day?
To many, this may seem like a very broad and basic question. However, the fact is that most Americans today do not dwell on this question as much as they did 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago.
While the American Revolution was unquestionably the most significant historical event of the 18th century, it is important to understand the evolution of the idea of liberty in European and Christian thought before the Revolution. Most scholars trace the idea of liberty back to the Magna Carta, signed in 1215, which gave the English nobility rights in exchange for service to the King. While this seems like a small concession today, in the context of the feudal society of the time, it was a major concession by King John, whose supporters considered it the greatest of many failures by this weak king.
During the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, one of the issues at stake was an individual’s right to have freedom of conscience. While we as Americans take this right for granted, at the time few governments were willing to openly allow their citizens to choose a religion other than the state sanctioned religion. As a result of the multitude of brutal wars of the period, governments began to tolerate people of other denominations within their borders, but almost always with limitations that those who practiced the state religion did not have to contend with. There was also very limited freedom of speech. Because of these limitations, many people, such as Pilgrims and Puritans, left for the New World, where they could have greater freedom to practice their religion as they chose.
Because of the circumstances of their emigration from Europe, the culture and traditions of the colonists started to differ in significant ways from the home country. Individual rights were enjoyed by the colonists due to the inability of the government to exercise very much control. Several generations enjoyed this liberty, which caused early Americans to have an expectation of individualism and self determination. When King George tried to raise money by levying new taxes on the colonies after the Seven Years War, he discovered a large percentage of the population would resist any additional taxation without being given a voice in their government. This he was not willing to give, and it ultimately led to the signing of the Declaration 240 years ago today.
Are the principles in the American founding documents obsolete?
The war of independence from the British Empire that was fought over 200 years ago may seem like ancient history to many people. However, there was a more general enemy that many of the founders fought against. This enemy they named tyranny, which is defined as “oppressive force exerted by government.” The writers of the Constitution not only were protecting us from their enemy – the British Empire – but any other enemy that will pick up the mantle of tyranny. That is why the Bill of Rights is such a frustration to those who would exert tyranny in the United States. The Bill of Rights was written to clearly define what government should not do. Barack Obama calls this a list of “negative liberties,” because he clearly desires the government to do more than the Bill of Rights allows. Consider the following incomplete list of government activities that are in violation of the Bill of Rights:
- The enforcement of political correctness is a violation of the First Amendment (freedom of speech)
- Gun control is in violation of the Second Amendment
- The Fourth Amendment is violated daily by the NSA (illegal search and seizure)
- The welfare state is a violation of the Tenth Amendment
Before you consider the founding documents obsolete, consider carefully the implications of lifting protections on liberty and limitations on government. Even though the Constitution is still credited as “the law of the land,” our unwillingness to hold our leaders accountable to it has caused the erosion of many of the liberties we greatly value. Even if you consider the present government worthy of your trust, and you are willing to accept their encroachment upon our Constitutional rights, how long will it be before someone takes power who does not have your best interests in mind?
Thank you for taking time to read. I wish you all a wonderful Independence Day