As we celebrate the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this summer, it is important to remember what took place so many years ago and how it applies to us today.
We have to go back to an earlier date, 1215 when the Magna Carta was created in England to understand the roots of our Declaration of Independence. The main stipulation, which still applies today, was that “no freeman could be punished except through the law of the land”. In other words, even the king was no longer above the law. While it took another 500 years (after the Treaty of Union), Parliament was created with a House of Commons and a House of Lords to represent the people. And, as good representation costs money, the citizens of Great Britain were taxed.
However, England’s first American colonies were created starting in 1620. While the colonists were Englishmen and Europeans, they developed local governance based on the foundational principles of the Magna Carta. But here is the problem: back in England, the 13 colonies did not have representation in Parliament the same way that local Englishmen did. This was a sore point among colonials that festered for years.
Fast forward now to the 1750′s and the Seven Year’s War. This was one of the first true global wars, and involved all of the major powers in Europe. In 1763, when the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the conflict, while Great Britain gained all of New France except for a small portion, the conflict left the British Treasury as dry as a bone. In response, Great Britain raised a series of taxes on its citizens at home and abroad. However, the taxes were very unpopular with their American colonies — not because the taxes were a tremendous burden on the colonists, but because the colonists still did not have fair representation in Parliament. Matters came to a head and the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773 was the result.
Thinkers on both sides knew that the governmental setup of the American colonies was flawed. Even King George III of Great Britain realized in 1774 that the struggle would eventually “come to blows”. Well, the armed conflict started at Lexington & Concord in 1775 — a full year before the Declaration of Independence was created and signed. And, while the date of the actual signing of the historical document was August 2nd, we celebrate the July 4 date because this was when the wording of the document was approved and passed out to the public as a broadside. After its signing on August 2nd, there was no turning back. In Great Britain, the signatories became rebels and wanted men — eligible to be ‘hanged, drawn and quartered’, and with their lands and properties forfeited to the Crown. Our Founding Fathers believed in the cause of liberty so much that they were willing to sacrifice their families and fortunes to decide the outcome.
Enough of the history lesson. How does this great document apply on its upcoming 237th anniversary? One of the most popular sentences in the English language says it all:
“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.”
To this day, we struggle as individuals and as a country to live up to these words in practice. While we have given great lip service to the spirit behind this sublimely beautiful sentence, we must and can do more. As with most things in our lives, the change starts individually — when each of us takes these words to heart as they apply to our fellow men. Only then will we see true change in this great country.
While I am very proud of the United States and to be an American, the truth is that I believe that our best days are yet to come — after each of us has taken the Preamble to heart and let it transform the way we relate to others. It is only then that our country will become the great beacon of freedom and hope that our Founding Fathers envisioned.
May God bless us, our families and the United States of America!