Two hundred and forty years ago a rag tag bunch of revolutionists adopted a treasonous paper, written in glorifying prose by Thomas Jefferson, with help from John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Issues were haggled over. The southern states threatened to walk out if the passage attacking slavery wasn’t deleted, and after much heated debate, Jefferson acquiesced. What they did agree on was a break from England was necessary, and “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” were inalienable rights. A new country was born on that hot day in Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence changed history, and the men who voted in the muggy and stifling room knew what they were doing was significant. They also acknowledged they could all be hung for this act of insurrection. On July 2, 1776, the day the Continental Congress voted for Independence, John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife that this day, “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” This revolt is our birth, our narrative, our history.
So, today amid the mayhem of warm potato salad, illegal firecrackers, and misplaced patriotism, put aside some time to ponder what our founding fathers felt as they renounced the monarchy of King George. What did these idealistic men envision for this newborn country? Could they have foreseen the strife and divisions? The dirty politics? The continued fight for freedoms for all Americans? The misinterpretation of their sacred documents? The blood spilled on so many battlefields? The proliferation of propaganda? The rise of ignorance?
What do I see? I see a nation still struggling to come together, despite the endless stream of hate speak. I see communities reaching out to those who hurt. I see honorable men and women stepping forward to protect the weak, the oppressed, the downtrodden. I see renegades who take in refugees. I see revolutionaries bringing light to the darkest of days. I see hope even when it seems hopeless. This is what I think Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and the rest saw as they stood up to tyranny, and as they put their names down on this now infamous document, they knew in their hearts they were creating a new kind of freedom they were passing on to their descendants with the knowledge the virtuous and honest would fight the good fight. These are the men and women I honor today as I fly the Stars and Stripes.
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, start like a rock.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.” – John Adams
“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” – Benjamin Franklin