“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 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.”
That powerful sentence opens our nation’s Declaration of Independence, drafted by our brilliant third president, Thomas Jefferson. His draft was influenced by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason.
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”
Jefferson goes on to list numerous reasons that impelled our country to its separation. Among them are the fact that King George III “sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out of their substance,” cut off our trade with other parts of the world, taxed us without our consent and “plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
The Declaration of Independence is a bravely written document that spurred a brave battle against Great Britain, then a mighty world power. It’d be even mightier now if we were paying extremely high taxes with British pounds, governed from across the Atlantic. One can argue that our nation’s independence was inevitable, but we wouldn’t be where we are today as a nation had we not separated from Great Britain when we did.
Congress approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. However, the legal separation occurred two days earlier, meaning Tuesday is an anniversary in its own right.
Independence Day is special for another reason. Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were both friends and foes during the first decades of our nation’s history, died July 4, 1826, — exactly 50 years after our nation’s birth. Adams was 90, and his last words reportedly were that Jefferson still lives. He was wrong; Jefferson had died hours earlier at 82. For a great depiction of both their lives, I recommend the two-part HBO series “John Adams.” Its scene focused on the approval of the Declaration of Independence — you can view it at bit.ly/137cCq — is my favorite of all time.
People frame political arguments today based on what they think the Founding Fathers intended our nation to be. I’ve long thought they intended us, as a free people, to be able to have those debates without fear of government interference.
There are numerous reasons to be proud to be an American, and we’ll celebrate that pride Thursday. If you haven’t read the Declaration of Independence since grade school, I encourage you to go online to 1.usa.gov/16Frqo. I’m confident you’ll find it as inspiring as I do.
Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.