Thursday, July 03, 2008
It had to be hot. There was no air conditioning or electric fans. A group of Congressional delegates gathered in their meeting room in Philadelphia to hear the document the committee led by Thomas Jefferson had come up with.
The sweat had be pouring through the formal clothing of the time as the document was introduced, read and approved. The sweat probably came not only from the heat, but from the situation. The men gathered were deciding to stand for liberty and against the nation that they had been a part of their entire lives. The break from Britain was not an easy one, and even the Declaration of Independence itself noted how such breaks should not be for minor matters.
Think of the courage those men showed that day. We often honor, as we should, those who have courage in military service for our country, but perhaps we forget those who showed real courage in the political world.
There were no lobbyists promising support for the next election campaign. There were no businesses ready to finance trips or the like for support of the measure. There was just the hope of liberty and a chance at a great experiment. The price for that hope was certain war against the greatest power on Earth at the time.
We are so used to how politics are now. We forget what a brave thing politics was on that day. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence signed onto a philosophy that changed the world. They also signed a document that made them traitors in the eyes the British Crown. Many of those men were, until that day, respected and accepted in high British culture. They knew that they would never be accepted again.
Some of the signers would be imprisoned by the British. Some would have their estates destroyed. Others would die broke. Some would have great success after the war and hold high office, even the Presidency.
However, on that hot day in July in 1776, standing for liberty was not something those men did for the money or for personal interest. They were devoted to serving the greater good. They embraced the idea that the people, not the government were ultimately in charge. They embraced the idea that the people were in charge because their Creator, God, gave them certain rights. In an age where it was thought God gave the King his power, contending that God gave the people power, and that no government could take those rights from the people was thought by some to be incredible. Think on it for a moment. Those men in Philadelphia committed themselves to the principle that no man, even a King, could take away certain rights from the people. Those rights came from God, and no man could touch them. (As a side note, when people talk about taking God out of public discourse in the United States, I wonder if they realize that they use a right that our founders said was from God.)
As we enjoy the barbecue and fireworks this Fourth of July, let us take time to pause and remember not only those who have served in our military to make and keep us free, but those brave men in Philadelphia who, with no regard for their own fortunes or political careers, had the courage to declare this nation free and establish an entirely new way of how the people and their government related to one another. God bless and keep the United States of America.