Today is our annual celebration of American independence. The Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. It may have been initially “signed” as early as July 2 but July 4 was quickly adopted as they day of importance.
There would be some nitpicking over the following weeks in Philadelphia though copies were immediately distributed throughout the states (or States), some arriving in England.
I’d bet that today (and certainly 10 years from today it will be moreso) you could find a scary number of high school and college-aged kids who couldn’t tell what day the Declaration of Independence was signed/ratified on. “Thursday?” they might more likely answer.
I’d also wager that a large portion of our brethren today haven’t much of a clue what the Declaration of Independence is really about.
It is first and foremost a set of divorce papers. It tells the “State of Great Britain” that the colonies demand a divorce.
It lays out the “long train of abuses” in detail. (King George III [“the present King of Great Britain”] was the face of their ire but the declaration does clearly address parliament at a point.)
It also offers a few thoughts of political philosophy and it was those lines which would be its greater legacy for the rest of the world.
Having a group of “states,” tribes, assemblies, whatever, break away and attempt to govern themselves wasn’t completely out of left field. It had happened throughout history and many of the founders were acutely aware of that side of history. Even having these groupings govern themselves without a king wasn’t new though it wasn’t the normal manner of governance, leading so many of those independents and leagues to failure, eventually to be gobbled up or dismembered. By most thought the natural mode of government was some manner of monarchy.
The document, however, does not posit exactly what form of government the states would take. This is probably the greatest misunderstanding of the Declaration of Independence.
The text at the end expounds some hints as to directions a government or governments could take. “[A]s Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
That the states were “independent” is one of the repetitive themes. The uncapitalized word “united” before a capitalized “States” opening the section demonstrates this. That is followed by a lower-cased “united” before the capitalized “Colonies.”
Some might argue that that is merely a grammatical affectation but it wouldn’t seem so since “Free” and “Independent” are capitalized. Note “States” is also capitalized.
It would seem that a unitary, centralizing, homogenizing government was not the aim of these men of various States in July of 1776. Why would they trade one practice of tyranny for another?
They clearly emphasize independence, not “united.”
The weight and import of the Declaration of Independence is that it survived and set a course which would not be undone merely in a few decades or after the leading personalities had decamped.
Thanks to these gentleman we have had a grand time since. The world was subsequently turned upside down and monarchs toppled from their thrones. Sadly, tyranny continued to survive for democracy is no guarantee against tyranny; what is?
But on this Glorious Day I shall not harp on how far we have fallen from the grace of the Declaration of Independence.
Enjoy your freedom.