NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Declaration of Independence worth saluting, remembering

Thursday we celebrated America’s independence with cookouts, fireworks displays and a day off from work. But amid our celebrations with family and friends, it’s worthwhile to reflect upon the meaning of the day and the words of promise in the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

The 13 American colonies had already been at war with Great Britain for more than a year when Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence. Two days later, on July 4, Congress adopted the official Declaration of Independence authored by Thomas Jefferson with amendments by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. In August, a clean copy of the Declaration was signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, and the other members, giving rise to the birth of a nation and the Independence Day holiday we celebrate today.

The vast majority of the text of The Declaration of Independence is devoted to listing the grievances against King George III. He had taxed the colonies without their consent, dissolved their governing bodies, plundered their ships, placed unwanted British troops among them and blocked immigration and trade beneficial to the colonies, Jefferson wrote. In all, there were more than 25 grievances listed in the Declaration, and no doubt they were important in rallying public support for the independence movement.

But while the grievances made a strong case for independence, it is the first few sentences for which the Declaration of Independence is best known:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“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.”

With those words, the Declaration of Independence established the foundation upon which the world’s greatest democracy – a beacon of freedom and hope for all – was built.

It’s unlikely the men who gathered in Philadelphia that summer could have anticipated what the nation they were creating would become. They were simply standing for what they believed to be right – independence, freedom and the equality of man. But John Adams understood the importance of what happened that summer.

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, of Congress’ decision to declare independence. “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 shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Some 242 years later, their work stands the test of time and serves as a bridge over the partisan chasms that often divide us today. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are common goals worthy of defending and saluting on Independence Day.