This Thursday we will be celebrating Independence Day. Many will refer to it as the 4th of July, but that’s just a date on the calendar. It is a federal holiday, so many people will have the day off from work. There will be barbeques, fireworks (although fewer due to budget problems on the state and local levels and sequestration cuts on the federal level), sales at stores and just people getting together to party. Most only have a glimmer of an idea of exactly what they are celebrating.

On 4 July, 1776, 237 years ago, the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was brought before and approved by the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The document laid out the case for why it was necessary to separate from Britain and become a sovereign nation. It articulates the fundamental ideas behind the American nation; that they held “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”. The preamble of the document goes on to describe the endeavors to abide by British rule although, ultimately, the history of the ruler, King George III “is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations” providing for absolute Tyranny. The Declaration goes on to demonstrate 27 grievances against the British king, from colonists being forced to house British troops in their homes to raising taxation without representation to exciting domestic insurrections amongst colonists. In conclusion, the Declaration of Independence declared King George III a tyrant, unfit to rule free men, therefore the Congress needed to declare the American colonies free and independent States.

Although the Continental Congress had actually voted to declare independence two days previously, on the 2nd of July, and the document was accepted by the Second Continental Congress on the 4th, final approval came from the New York Convention on the 9th of July. The Declaration of Independence was finally signed 2 August, 1776 by 56 delegates, Dr. Benjamin Franklin first among them.Two others chose not to sign the document, one holding out hope for reconciliation with Britain and another thinking the time was too early.

The men who signed the founding document of the American political tradition know they were signing a confession of treason against the British government, at that time, their own government. Despite this, they “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The signers believed in the divine Providence for their protection. Although fearful for their lives, they were all aware of the importance of what they were doing. Five of them were captured by the British and tortured before they died.

The Declaration and the revolution that followed gave the new American nation the ability to create the United States Constitution. It created a government of the People, by the People and for the People. After America had won its independence and the Founding Fathers set about creating the form of government to be used, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government they had chosen. Franklin replied,” A Republic, if you can keep it.” I fear we are not doing enough to keep the Republic. While looking at the grievances against King George III, I thought there were at least seven of them committed by the current inhabitant of the White House.

This Thursday, Independence Day, I ask that you set aside a few minutes to read the Declaration of Independence. Read it to your children, because they probably don’t learn much about it in the schools. Give thought for what it means, both in history and in your life today. It remains one of the greatest documents in history.