The United States of America joined the family of nations on July 2nd, 1776, when the Continental Congress voted to approve a “Resolution of Independence” introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, which stated: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right out to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Yet it is the Declaration of Independence – written primarily by Thomas Jefferson and approved by the Congress two days later – that we honor and celebrate.
What makes the Declaration of Independence, which merely announced a decision arrived at two days prior, so important? Why would Abraham Lincoln describe that Declaration as the “immortal emblem of humanity”? After all, as Lincoln himself acknowledged, the “assertion that ‘all men are created equal’ was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain.” Nor did the Founders “mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them.”
Rather, Lincoln tells us, “they meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.”
In short, the Declaration is a call to action, a reminder that we must constantly rededicate ourselves to the task of perfecting our Union, or, as one of Lincoln’s most worthy successors put it, that we must “continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and prosperous America.”
In conceiving a new nation upon the principles of liberty and equality, the Founders meant to create one people bound together not by blood and heritage, race or religion, but rather by principle. Again, Lincoln put it best: “We have…among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants” of the Founding Generation. “If they look through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father to all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.”
The Declaration of Independence may not have been what made the United States of America independent. But it is the principles embedded in the Declaration that continue to make the United States of America great.
Let us pray that Lincoln was indeed right when he described that old Declaration of Independence as “a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back in the hateful paths of despotism,” that “when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.”
– P. Sicher