Today is July 4, one of the most glorious days in our history. It was on this day in 1776 that delegates to the Continental Congress, meeting in what is now Independence Hall in Philadelphia, approved a document declaring independence from Great Britain.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in his amazing preamble to the declaration.
A month earlier, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had introduced a motion calling for the separation of the 13 colonies from Great Britain. Support of the motion in the Second Continental Congress was far from unanimous. Some delegates wanted to maintain ties with Great Britain and others rightly feared the potential consequences of approving an independence declaration.
After heated debate, delegates agreed to a recess of several weeks, but before they left they named a committee — John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson of Virginia — to develop a statement explaining why independence was necessary. The other members of the committee left it to Jefferson to write a first draft that was submitted to the convention delegates when they reassembled on July 1. On July 2, the convention approved Lee’s call for independence.
For the next two days, the delegates made corrections and changes to the body of the declaration, leaving Jefferson’s preamble intact. There wasn’t always agreement: up to one-fifth of Jefferson’s document was changed or rewritten. On July 4, the delegates approved the declaration and then left Philadelphia to avoid retaliation by the British. They reconvened on Aug. 2 to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Passage of that declaration was an important first step, to be sure, but it would take seven years of fighting, of struggle, of starvation and misery and, above all, hope for the colonies truly to be free.
Once independence was assured, the new nation set about creating a framework for governing. The first attempt was completed in 1781, before the war’s end, when the Congress approved the Articles of Confederation, which created a federal government with few powers and no ability to fund much of anything.
In 1788, a new Constitution was approved, taking effect on March 4, 1789. Soon after, George Washington became our first president.
Today, 245 years after the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, we are a nation at a crossroads, divided conservative from liberal, men from women, Black and brown from white, young from old, wealthy from everyone else, Christian from, well, seemingly every other religion.
Agreement is not to be found, and that doesn’t bode well for the country we all love. Yes, we all do love America, and that is lost in the ranting and fuming on both sides of the political divide. That we may seek a different direction for America is not bad. In fact, having a plethora of ideas can be healthy for this nation, or any nation.
But those have to be heard, not just by the proponents but also by the loyal opponents. We don’t have to agree, but we need to listen to one another, to hear what each other is saying. Who knows? The other side might have an idea we like.
Conservatives tend to want less government, fewer personal restrictions. Liberals want government to do more, to provide more, no matter the cost. Of course, there is a range of thought within each of those broad categories.
If we listen, if we truly listen, we just might find a way out of this ideological divide that currently splits out nation.
Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Donald Trump, said, “Our strength as a nation comes in our unity. We are the United States of America, not the divided states. And those who want to divide us are trying to divide us, and we shouldn’t let them do it.”
Dr. Carson is absolutely right.
The Bible, in Mark 3:25, says, “And if a House divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
No one should give up his or her core beliefs, of course, but we learn much and perhaps refine our beliefs by listening to those who have other core beliefs.
On this Independence Day, we can start by toning down the shouting, cutting through the rancor and, by reaching across the divide, to say we are all Americans and we matter and our thoughts and beliefs have merit.
In 1776, the committee appointed to develop America’s Great Seal chose to include the words “e pluribus unum,” which means “out of many, one.”
It is as good a description of the greatness of America as any.
It is up to each of us to give meaning to that motto.
Happy July 4, America! We love you.