Independence Day commemorates the Fourth of July, 1776, the date borne on the Declaration of Independence, by which representatives of “the thirteen united States of America” formally announced their irrevocable political separation from the government of Great Britain.
The Declaration was primarily drafted by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, but the ideas in it weren’t his own. The document was a synthesis of political philosophy and ideas– both European and very American– that helped inspire the American Revolution, among them the works of English philosopher, John Locke, whose formulation, “Life, liberty, and property,” likely formed the basis for Thomas Jefferson’s famous formulation: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” as inalienable rights shared by all people equally.
But at the time of this writing, America still held human beings as slaves, an underscore to the contradictions and imperfections of the Founding Fathers. No doubt, as a group they were extraordinary, revolutionary, enlightened, compassionate, and forward-thinking, but there was no perfect era of accord among a monolithic institution of unequivocally freedom-supporting Founding Fathers. Fights, disagreements, hypocrisies, opposing interests, and certainly the brutal horror of oppression, as experienced by black slaves in a not-entirely-free America, are all part of American history.
Any American today who longs for some past golden age of perfect government longs for something that never existed. So why is Independence Day important? Why celebrate? Because imperfect though the country and its form of society may have been (and will ever be), the signing of this document was an act of progress with resounding historical significance. In declaring their independence and advancing philosophical and legal reasons for separation, the thirteen united States of America– with the entire Western world watching– clearly and succinctly asserted a radical, but compelling principle of government: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
A government does not properly rule over people; it serves under them. Even within the theistic philosophical framework of the Declaration of Independence, governments are not instituted as God’s representative among human beings and bestowed with the Divine blessing to interfere in their lives according to the whim and caprice of a hereditary ruler, as European monarchs had asserted for so many centuries. Thomas Jefferson and the American states united asserted that governments are instituted as humanity’s representative, advocate, and servant, and exist to defend our equality before the law and our equal right, derived from our nature as human beings, to live our lives free from oppression by others and happily pursue our separate interests in peace and civil society.
Though the country our forebears founded may not have perfectly exemplified these principles, voicing and codifying them as our Founding Fathers did, and applying them in action toward the purpose of political independence from Great Britain would inspire this great nation for the rest of its history to continually, “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed” as other voices of conscience found and urged greater and more universal applications for these powerful words in our society and form of government.
Though he was two days off because the Declaration was formally approved on July 2, 1776 and signed later, John Adams made a prodigious prediction regarding the Independence Day holiday in a letter to his wife, Abigail, with whom he is well known to have had a very progressive marriage and equal friendship for the time:
“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
As America spends time with friends, family, and co-workers contemplating and solemnizing Independence Day with “shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations,” we here at The Independent Voter Project are proud to celebrate this great nation’s founding with you and sincerely wish you a Happy (and safe!) Fourth of July.