Monday, July 02, 2012

July 2: the Day of Deliverance

On this day 236 years ago the representatives of the various American colonies in Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain. It was an act that many were loath to take, but events had reached the point that most felt that independence could no longer be avoided. Members of Congress knew that they would personally be considered traitors and would be treated as the vilest of criminals if captured. Yet most saw no other way forward.

The following day, July 3, 1776 John Adams who was then serving as a Massachusetts delegate to Congress wrote one of his many letters to his wife Abigail. Adams' impatience shines through, as he wishes that independence had been declared some seven months earlier; although, he admits that the intervening period had brought many that were previously ambivalent to support independence. The final sentences of Adams' July 3, 1776 letter have proven to be somewhat prophetic with respect to the founding of the United States of America.
"The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. 
"You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."
Adams was off by two days. The final draft of the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on July 4. Thus, we celebrate Independence Day each year on July 4. But Adams' other foresights  have proven remarkably accurate. The battle for independence cost a great deal of toil, blood, and treasure. Yet most Americans since that time have thought it well worth the price. And we still celebrate Independence Day with the kinds of activities Adams envisioned.

The U.S. was not the first nation in history to declare its independence from another nation. Nor was the American Revolution the first war fought over an idea, such as liberty. After all, as one historian notes, wars had been fought over religious concepts for millennia.

The American Revolution is unique among wars because it was the first that successfully battled the prevailing accepted social caste structure. It is true that few of the signers of the declaration thought that Thomas Jefferson's stirring assertion "that all men are created equal" meant that this included non-males and people didn't descent from northern Europeans. But it set the stage for equal respect of all people and established a goal to which our nation yet aspires, however clumsy its actions.

In an age when most of the people with whom Americans interacted accepted the idea that some people were naturally better than others and deserved to be treated better than others, the declaration introduced a new thought—that people were not naturally beholden to the aristocracy and that people could govern themselves.

The success of the American Revolution was evident in that within half a century after its conclusion the concept of aristocracy as a valid form of government was largely dead throughout most of the world. It was evident that free people could govern themselves at least as well as any aristocratic system.

The American form of governance is not a perfect system. It is fraught with innumerable problems and deficiencies. Yet it beats pretty much every other system actually used on a large basis anywhere in the world.

So as I celebrate Independence Day this year I will be grateful for those that courageously embarked on the path of liberty, for those that waged the long slog to actual independence, and for all that have contributed to the cause of liberty since that time. I am a beneficiary of their sacrifices. I suppose that the best way to show gratitude is to pass it on by helping further the cause of liberty for future generations.

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