In Congress, July 4, 1776
“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.
“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 — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …”
As we reflect on the celebration of our nation’s Independence Day, it seems prudent to consider what exactly it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. Growing up, my wife was often encouraged (required) by her parents to write short essays any time she was home from school in honor of a public holiday, with the objective of cultivating a richer understanding of our nation’s history and values.
Since July 4th always occurred during summer break, research and writing on the topic of Independence Day was generally left for in-school assignments. Many of us memorized some (or all) of our nation’s founding documents during our time in school, but unfortunately today people know very little about these documents, or our government in general. A 2017 CNN article entitled “Americans know literally nothing about the Constitution” cited polling from the University of Pennsylvania that exposed the disheartening condition of civil ignorance in our country. The research found that only about one in four Americans could name all three branches of the government. One in four.
This year, my wife and I had the honor of helping our 5-year-old daughter begin to memorize the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Children are such sponges. It inspired my wife and I to recommit these lines to memory as well, but sadly the data suggest that those who take the time to memorize and learn about our founding documents are in the minority.
As I ponder what it means to be an American, I can readily see values of liberty, independence and freedom coursing through both the Declaration of Independence as well as our Constitution. These ideals are important, but I assert they are not supreme. We read, tucked in the last line of the Declaration of Independence, these weighty words: “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.”
With firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we pledge, to each other, our lives, fortunes, and our sacred honor. One after another, each of the signers of the Declaration approached the table to sign what was, in the words of Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Rush, “believed by many to be our own death warrants.”
These are not the words of anarchist rebels seeking to “live their best life” free of responsibility and the hindrances of social structures or law. These are the words of devoted kinsmen, united not by blood, skin tone or social class, but by common purpose and conviction.
I ask you, in this present time of racial, gender, political and cultural tension, are you willing to consider what it means to be an American? Will you consider what it would look like to be united not by blood or skin color or common hobbies or geographical location, but by a deep unity in purpose, conviction and brotherly love? Pause to contemplate the magnitude of pledging to another your life, fortune, and sacred honor in order to support the tenets of our founding documents.
The weekend festivities are over, but we are left with the opportunity to remember, presently and for years to come, the importance of our nation’s founding principles as well as the sacrifices required in order to protect them. Patriots of this day continue to pledge their lives in defense of liberty, the same kind of liberty that allows us to burn our nation’s flag, protest our soldiers and riot in the name of “peace.”
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.