COLORADO: The United States celebrates its independence on July 4th. Independence still protecting America’s freedom 243 years later is extraordinary. The colonists formally claimed Independence on July 2, 1776.
It was read publicly on July 8th and its signing was on August 2, 1776. However, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence as our founding document on July 4th, 1776. However, the American colonies were not in any sense of the word independent on July 4, 1776.
Boston was still being occupied by British regulars. Fighting had broken out on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concord and would continue until 1781. The final Peace Treaty of Paris is not signed until 1783.
Despite all this, July 4th is the day our elected representative stood up to declare our independence.
Today, most countries of the world celebrate some kind of “national day.” Ironically, the one country that does not have a national day is Great Britain. The closest thing they celebrate is the Queen’s Birthday on June 8th.
With such a short history, the United States celebrates only one day. Others celebrate more.
Hungary, for example, celebrates its founding on August 20, the feast day of St. Stephen, the country’s first king. They also celebrate two national days: March 15, for the 1848 Revolution (which aimed at the independence of the Hungarian Kingdom from the Austrian Empire). They also celebrate October 23, commemorating the revolution of 1956 against the Soviet Union.
Both revolutions failed.
In true American fervor, July 4th, our celebration of Independence Day commemorates the revolution against Britan. On July 4th, 1776, the outcome was anything but certain.
What is the point of the Declaration of Independence?
The Continental Congress did have vigerous debates over whether there should be such a declaration of America’s independence. All due to disagreements between the colonies and Great Britain that eventually became warfare. The contention is that some delegates felt that it was about time to make a statement; others still hoped for reconciliation.
In the end, those wishing to declare independence from Britain did prevail.
The structure of the Declaration
The first paragraph of the Declaration often overlooked in favor of the second paragraph, clearly sets out its purpose. It is worth quoting in full:
“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.”
Three things are significant in this paragraph.
The first is the implicit nature of our independence.
The paragraph doesn’t say, “We declare that we’re independent!” or “We think we have the right to be independent!”. It is not an assertion that we ought to be independent. Instead, it assumes that independence and says “Here’s why. We think that common decency requires that we explain ourselves.”
The second is that it already gives the reader the answer.
We are entitled—a word much overused these days—to an equal status as a country by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” The same as Great Britain or France or Spain. This is extraordinary! (And somewhat impudent.) It asserts that our independence is in line with the natural order of things in a universe created and ordered by God. One could point to no higher authority than that.
Finally, it leads into the rest of the document which will expand on these ideas.
The oft-quoted second paragraph explains the idea that we have a right to be free. Following that is a list of seventeen “causes which impel” the separation. In other words, although many might not have preferred separation from Great Britain, the actions of the king and parliament have forced our hand.
The conclusion of the Declaration
The idea that the colonies did try every means possible to effect a reconciliation with Britain is explained in the two paragraphs of the Declaration. Appeals to the king, the parliament and even to the British people were all to no avail.
The Declaration of Independence is written like a geometric proof. The first paragraph contains the “givens.” The following paragraphs explain the given statements which the Congress believed were indisputable facts.
The final paragraph is the “therefore” part: the inescapable conclusion.
The final paragraph states explicitly what is assumed in the introduction. It is the actual declaration of independence itself:
“We, therefore, …declare, That these United Colonies are,
and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”
That, in a nutshell, is the form and purpose of the Declaration of Independence. It is the mouse shaking his fist at the elephant and saying, “You can’t step on me!”
Our revolution may have failed, like Hungary’s in 1848 and 1956. But like Hungary’s in 1989, it did succeed. And so today and every 4th of July for the past 243 years, we continue to celebrate our bold declaration.
Listen to Max McClean read the Declaration of Independence: