Why Do We Celebrate the Fourth of July?

On July 4, 2014, the United States will celebrate its 238th birthday.  John Adams wrote in the momentous year of 1776 that the signing of the Declaration, “…ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…” But why? And why do we continue to celebrate the Fourth of July? It does not mark the securing of our Independence, which would not come until the Treaty of Paris, another seven long and bloody years after the signing of the Declaration. Nor does it even mark a great battlefield victory of that struggle, such as Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Cow Pens, or Yorktown. It does not even mark the creation of our government under the Constitution of the United States. That document was not signed and ratified by the states until 1789, a full thirteen years after the Declaration. So what are we celebrating?

In July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence was no more than an open letter of defiance addressed to King George III. It is easy for twenty-first century American’s to look back across the centuries and observe the orderly procession of history with complaisance. But, to the men putting their names to that revolutionary document, nothing was certain. The framers did not pledge their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor,” lightly. They were picking a fight with the most powerful empire on earth, in the name of principles that stood in opposition to the entire world order of the eighteenth century. Principles they believed applied not only to themselves but to all generations, born and unborn.

Those eternal principles are what makes the Declaration so revolutionary. It is a public pronouncement of the American conscience. It is a bold statement that was the culmination of years of debate, discussion, protests, and conflict. It is that statement and those principles that we celebrate. The principle that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, and that government derives its just powers from the people’s consent.

And so, as a nation, we celebrate the Fourth of July. A day a public letter was signed with great hope for a future where a nation would be founded upon these foundational principles. Our great national victory was not a battle or a treaty, but a proclamation of our own identity.  Our Independence Day, is a day that we reflect on the courage of the founding generation and the boldness of their, and our, declaration of eternal principles. Our Declaration of Independence.

Happy Independence Day!

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