In the violent discourse of modern culture and the current toxic political environment, we are inclined to forget the blessing that we enjoy being part of the greatest country in the world.
The founders of our country held certain beliefs sacred. These principles guided them as they spent nearly two years meeting in Philadelphia debating whether or not to declare Independence from Great Britain.
In the summer of 1776, Thomas Jefferson spent 17 days writing the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress took two days to make minor changes to the final text before approving this history-changing document on July 4, 1776.
The signers of the declaration were wanted men after being involved in declaring independence from Great Britain. Their courage and belief in the principles that are explicit in the Declaration of Independence are evident in the quotations listed below:
- 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. (Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1826)
- I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence, for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth. (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)
- Equal and exact justice to all men…freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected, these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us. (Thomas Jefferson, 1743–1826)
- We must be unanimous; there must be no pulling different ways; we must hang together. (John Hancock, July 4, 1776)
- Adams, remarking the difficulty with which the resolution of independence was passed, said it was like getting thirteen clocks to strike at the same instant. (Garry Wills, American author, journalist, and historian)
- Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? (Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania delegate, July 20, 1811)
- My hand trembles, but my heart does not. (Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island delegate)
- Let us prepare for the worst. We can die here but once. (Abraham Clark, New Jersey delegate, to Elias Dayton, July 4, 1776)
- We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. (Benjamin Franklin, 1706–1790)
- I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost. (Frederick Douglass, African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, and writer)
- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. (Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776)
- The Honorable Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent States. The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six O’clock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice. The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country. (George Washington, General Orders, July 9, 1776)
- Advice is received that the congress resolved upon independence the 4th of July; and, it is said, have declared war against Great Britain in form. (London Chronicle, August 13, 1776)
- Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826)
Finally, take the time read the complete text of Declaration of Independence (http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/). Reflect on the principles contained within and re-dedicate yourself to those principles that guided the men who declared our independence on July 4, 1776.
As you take time to ponder the Declaration, consider it in the light of this quote from President Harry Truman on December 15, 1952, address at the National Archives:
- We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.