“… 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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
Many people celebrate Independence Day as a military holiday, with an emphasis on showing gratitude to the men and women in uniform who’ve served to protect and defend the freedoms we in the United States enjoy. I am grateful for the sacrifice of every man and woman who has served in our armed forces but Independence Day, to me, is about something greater, more fundamental, than military power or even military victory. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform affirms the ideas we hold dear–the IDEAS upon which our country was founded.
Independence Day is the result of the power of an idea, belief in that idea, the courage to act upon the idea and perseverance in the face of seemingly unsurmountable challenges and opposing military power and wealth.
Today we celebrate the declaration of independence, the manifestation of our nation’s founding ideas and principles:
- Unalienable rights
- Consent of the governed
At the time of the official signing ceremony (August 2, 1776), Franklin reportedly said, in reply to a statement by John Hancock: “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Drafting the Declaration of Independence
In May 1776 the Continental Congress appointed five men to serve on a committee to draft what we know today as the Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.
According to Walter Isaacson’s 2003 biography (which serves as my primary source for the events surrounding the drafting of the Declaration), Ben was home in bed fighting gout at the time at the time the committee first met so Thomas Jefferson “had the glorious honor of composing, on a little lap desk he had designed, some of the most famous phrases in history while sitting alone in a second-floor room of a home on Market Street just a block from Franklin’s home” (p. 310).
After Jefferson completed his draft, John Adams made minor revisions. On June 21, 1776 Jefferson sent the draft to Ben Franklin for his review:
“Will Doctor Franklin be so good as to peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate?” Thomas Jefferson’s letter, as quoted by Isaacson (p. 311).
Franklin made few changes but the most notable is the change from “we hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” Much has been written about the impact of this change from “sacred,” with its religious connotation, to the more rational “self-evident.” I’ll leave the philosophical argument to others, but the change certainly improves the writing.
The draft of the Declaration of Independence, showing each of the revisions by Franklin and Adams, can be found here.
Independence Day is the holiday we Americans have set aside to celebrate the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. I think it’s important to celebrate and honor the ideas put forth in writing by our founding fathers. Without the collective intellectual contributions of these idealistic men and their bravery in signing the document that launched the greatest country ever devised we would have nothing to defend militarily or celebrate.
As a footnote, it’s so interesting to me that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on July 4, 1826, which just happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing Declaration of Independence. James Monroe, our fifth president, died five years later, July 4, 1831.
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