“Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.” Thomas Paine, Common Sense.
July 4, 2023, finds the American Founding and its constitutional order under intense and coordinated attack by an assorted mob of radical academics, Marxists, communists, anarchists, anti-capitalists, globalists, and the digital super-elite poised to claim their own superpower status among the world’s powers.
The reason these people are increasingly virulent and unrelenting in their attacks on the Founding and the concept of human freedom is simple – they are not good people. The very idea of America and her principles of a self-governing Republic is all that stands in the way of a new world order and the commodification of humans into commercial units stripped of individualism. It’s the ageless dream of worldwide authoritarian governance where the nation-states meld into something of a modern version of a feudal order where the muckety-mucks rule the roost and the rest of us get to clean it out.
But, most of all, these people hate God. Listen to them, and they are very clear on what they fear most; God-given rights, self-determination, and fealty given not to a government of men but to a Sovereign Creator and his Moral and Physical Order of the Universe. This age’s leaders would not be locked into a death struggle against freedom of speech, assembly, and association if they didn’t fear the words and promises of God.
George Washington said it plainly. “The Man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf.”
This is why July 4 is so important.
Every July 4 commemorates not merely the date when the Declaration of Independence was signed but also represents the culmination of thousands of years of human history and the practical application of that history’s lessons into a Republic by a handful of remarkable and faith-filled men.
It is one of the most significant dates in the human story. It is perhaps its most noble.
July 4, 1776, defines the liberation of the individual from the tyranny of force and identifies the source of human rights, not as an arbitrary consignment from a king, a government, or a dictator, but as a God-given gift, permanent and irreversible.
The Declaration of Independence demarks the old and new world, the ancient from the modern.
The Founders did not merely sign a document that severed the American Colonies from the British Crown. Their signatures also marked them as traitors to the King and would be their death warrant if their quest for human liberty failed to purchase victory through persuasion or, ultimately, force.
Much of the intellectual framing for the Founding had been going on for nearly a century in the pulpits of the churches of the American colonies. Born in the reformation of Christianity and greatly influenced by thinkers such as Locke, Montesquieu and others, the two mighty movements of faith and reason converged into a vast tide that reshaped the world.
While the early colonial ministers and the great thinkers of the age helped forge the intellectual support for the future nation, the Great Awakening – an empowering evangelical revival that swept the colonies in the 1730s and the 1740s – helped establish the character of the coming revolution.
A series of escalating confrontations between the colonists and the British began in earnest with the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Tea Act enacted by the British Parliament in 1773, and the colonial response to the Tea Act, which ended with the Boston Tea Party in December 1773. These incidents hardened the position of the British Parliament in 1774 with more punitive economic and civic restrictions, known as the Coercive Acts – re-labeled by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts.
The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to collaborate as a federation of colonies on a series of appeals and grievances to King George III, with many delegates still hoping that the Crown and the “provinces” could come to a peaceable way forward. Notably, a Declaration of Colonial Rights was accepted out of this first Congress, which would lay a foundation for the advancing revolution. One was:
“That they [the colonists] are entitled to life, liberty and property: And they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent.”
The British Parliament nor the King responded.
In reality, the revolutionary war had already begun by the time the Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 (assuming the powers of a national government). The battles of Lexington and Concord and other skirmishes had occurred in April. On June 14, Congress created the Continental Army, and then-delegate to Congress from Virginia, George Washington became its Commanding General. The Battle of Bunker Hill would occur three days later.
Thomas Jefferson, then a thirty-three-year-old replacement delegate from Virginia, arrived in Philadelphia on June 20, 1775. Although there is some confusion concerning the exact order of events, Mr. Jefferson produced a draft. Delegate John Dickinson from Pennsylvania produced the final copy of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, detailing colonial grievances – again – against the British Parliament. The Declaration was passed on July 6, 1775 (followed by a final appeal to the Crown on July 8). The Declaration stopped just short of declaring independence, in deference to those who still held hope for an agreement with the Crown.
However, the time for peace had passed. Through May of 1776, the Congress and its delegates worked to have the various colonial governments grant authority for a vote for independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776.
Anticipating the approval for independence, Thomas Jefferson, part of a five-member committee that delegated to him the primary task of writing the Declaration, had already begun work on June 11. He reclaimed parts of the many “declarations of rights” that already existed in Virginia and other colonies, other documents that he had written, and the wealth of ideas that had anchored the very concepts of human liberty that had made the revolution inevitable.
The final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4.
The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence did not merely sign a document; they signed their place in history. The cost to them personally would not be a mere inconvenience, but it would be their lives and their fortunes.
It was a decision without gray, and we live on the breath of their greatness and faithfulness nearly 250 years on. The echo of General Washington’s observation about “divine interposition” in directing the Founding rings down steps of those years for those with “ears to hear.”