Today we commemorate the passing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress some 231 years ago today. The actual formal copy of the declaration wasn’t signed until almost a month later and was signed by the delegates when and where they could. Most signed on August 2. Two delegates were never available to sign it.
It humbles me to know that I had a relative sign this momentous document. Delegate Thomas Stone of Maryland was a descendant of William Stone, who was the King-appointed Governor of Maryland…and to whom my family can trace direct lineage. Basically, Thomas Stone was a cousin of my family line.
Because of my family’s connection to this historic event, I’ve often contemplated the act that we commemorate on this day and its ramifications to those who precipitated and culminated it.
We seem to imagine that the outcome that ultimately was achieved was, at the time, a foregone conclusion. That the adoption and signing of the Declaration was not a risky endeavor signifying the beginning of a struggle, but the announcement of the success of the struggle at the end. We declared our independence and so, we were free of the tyranny of the British crown.
Adoption of the Declaration of Independence wasn’t the end; it was the beginning of a long, arduous struggle, the outcome of which was not only in doubt…it was almost ridiculous to imagine that the upstart young conglomeration of States could defeat what was, at the time, the world’s most powerful army. It was absurd to believe that this ragtag band of farmers, hunters and shopkeepers could win the liberty that they so brazenly declared to be fact. When the brave men who pledged “Our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor” to the pact they signed, they didn’t enter into the compact lightly. It was a virtual suicide pact and, even in victory, many of the signers were devastated physically and financially, by the simple act of affixing their name to that piece of paper.
Our freedom wasn’t won by the act of declaring it to be so. It was won by almost EIGHT years of bloody battle. By suffering and struggle. By luck, by fate and by the hand of God.
When I think about the task that those great men undertook, I am humbled and shamed at the same time. Humbled to think that our forefathers had the courage, determination and self-sacrificing attitude to begin, and see to a finish, such a difficult struggle at such huge personal risk.
Yet I am shamed because I do not believe that our current generations could or would, under similar circumstances, muster the fortitude to embark upon such an endeavor. Our willingness to surrender at any sign of difficulty. Our addiction to the comforts and coddling of the lives to which we have become accustomed. Our collective lack of integrity and honor and our penchant for denying personal responsibility for ourselves and our own well-being and surrendering responsibility…and with it control…to some governmental agency or another.
Even more humbling: Our forefathers KNEW that this was going to occur.
“… the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. For the conclusion of this war [for independence] we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.”
These wise men knew that, eventually, our society would become so decadent as to become unable to sustain the liberty that they fought, bled and died for.
“…I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.” –Benjamin Franklin
But they undertook the struggle anyway. They won our freedom, even knowing that human nature and history belied the ability for it to be sustained across the generations.
So, our founders undertook this horrible task not under the belief that victory was inevitable, but with full knowledge that the chances of success were slim. They undertook this, not believing that they were to be spared any discomfiture from the coming hostilities, but with full knowledge that their fortunes, their sacred honor and their very lives were very much at risk. They undertook this, not even believing that, in the unlikely event that they should prevail, the hard fought liberty paid for in blood and tears would be an everlasting condition for all time, but with full knowledge that the beneficiaries of their struggle and effort would, over the generations become so decadent and corrupted as to voluntarily surrender the very liberties that they fought and died for.
But they did it anyway.
THAT, my friends and gentle readers, is Honor.
With all that in mind, at some point during this Independence day celebration, in between the cookouts, and the fireworks…somewhere during the parties and the revelry…please take a moment to contemplate what the Fourth of July REALLY represents: The sacrifices, the determination, the pure, unadulterated WILL of our forefathers to see justice and liberty achieved…no matter the cost…and contemplate for a moment, our sacred duty to continue the struggle so that their sacrifices were not made in vain.
Independence day is not the end of the struggle, my friends…it is only the beginning.