In Philadelphia, in 1776, the Continental Congress of the 13 Colonies argued fiercely about how to deal with an increasingly hostile British monarchy. Many, if not most, of the new world’s inhabitants considered themselves British subjects, and the idea of rebelling was unthinkable.
But continued provocations from the crown, including onerous taxes began to take their toll, and the unthinkable became the inevitable. They appointed a 5 man committee to write a declaration of their intent. One of the obvious appointments was Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was one of the most well known men in the world at that time, and highly revered as both a philosopher and scientist. They also appointed a fiery outspoken attorney, John Adams. Additionally they appointed Roger Sherman from Connecticut, and Robert Livingston from New York. Perhaps their most unusual appointment was the youngest member of the congress, a shy Virginian, who rarely spoke publicly, named Thomas Jefferson.
When the five men met, they asked Jefferson if he would draft the document. Jefferson felt that it would be better if one of the older and more experienced men wrote it, but Adams insisted. Jefferson asked him why?
Adams replied, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”
Jefferson then agreed, and sequestered himself to write. Jefferson penned the phrases that came to represent the cause of not only a new country, but a new way of looking at the relationship between government and the governed.
He wrote that governments governed only by the consent of the governed, and that human rights came not by government grant, but from God.
“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.”
It would be difficult to overstate the impact of what this brilliant young man wrote. It gave a moral compass to the fledgling nation’s struggle for independence, and has for centuries been an inspiration and encouragement for people all over the globe.
On July 4th, 1776, the congress unanimously approved and signed the Declaration of Independence. They signed it knowing that it meant a hangman’s noose if they were captured by the British.
As Americans, every July 4th, we celebrate the genius of Thomas Jefferson, the bravery of the congressmen that signed it, and give thanks for our nation. A nation that God has blessed far beyond what the signers envisioned. Whenever we begin to lose our moral compass, the Declaration of Independence calls us again to the revelation that we answer to God, and governments answer to us.
We are citizens, not subjects. Happy 4th of July, and God bless America.