Opinion

As July 4 approaches, travel in time to focus on our independence

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is a 12-by-18-foot oil-on-canvas painting in the United States Capitol Rotunda. Created somewhere around 1817, it depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress.
John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is a 12-by-18-foot oil-on-canvas painting in the United States Capitol Rotunda. Created somewhere around 1817, it depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. John Trumbull

Humor me for a couple of centuries and travel back in time 240 years to June 26, 1776. ...

The majority of the 13 original colonies have spent the previous few years trying to wrench fairness from their English overlords — mostly to deaf ears, according to one Thomas Jefferson in his autobiographical account, which, in part, chronicles the weeks and days leading up to our Declaration of Independence.

Blood had been shed between the colonists and armies hired by King George III to quell uprisings and hunt down traitors. “Loyalists” to the king frustrated efforts of the “Patriots” at every turn, hoping for a peaceful co-existence. But there was no peace. The issues went beyond taxation without representation and were summed up in March 1775 by Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

The Henry speech is followed in 1775 by the rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes, the clash of the Minutemen and Redcoats at Lexington and Concord, and the second Continental Congress — where the colonies had begun to think more like a unit than individual sovereign states subservient to the throne.

As much as I love the celebrations around our Fourth of July, the older I get, the more I appreciate the origins of this holiday and the mindset of the leadership in 1776. I encourage you to sample ushistory.org , which carries passages from Jefferson’s autobiography as well as contextual commentary.

The Patriots who coalesced in the first six months of 1776 were no longer looking back; they were preparing a break from the mother country and a passionate bolt toward freedom — the independence we enjoy today. When they adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4 and 56 signed it over the course of the next few months, they were signing their death warrants in the event they did not persevere.

From Jefferson: “The committee for drawing the declaration of Independence desired me to do it. It was accordingly done, and being approved by them, I reported it to the house on Friday the 28th of June when it was read and ordered to lie on the table. On Monday, the 1st of July the house resolved itself into a committee of the whole & resumed the consideration of the original motion made by the delegates of Virginia, which being again debated through the day, was carried in the affirmative by the votes of N. Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, N. Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, N. Carolina, & Georgia.” After a bit more debate South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Delaware signed on — and eventually New York.

Last year I published all 1,458 words of the Declaration of Independence over the Fourth of July weekend on these pages. In hindsight, I wished I had solicited guest opinions or letters to the editor from you so I could have published those along with it. So today I am doing that. I will have to receive submissions by 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, in order to get them ready for publication on July 3-4. Access our online templates at idahostatesman.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/submit-letter/ to submit.

I would love to know what the Declaration of Independence means to you during this election year, when we will choose our 45th president. We’ve had 240 years to get our act together as a republic. Though we remain a free country, we face a mountain of challenges to stay on course.

Abraham Lincoln reminded us of that during his Gettysburg Address in 1863 on that blood-soaked Civil War battlefield. The first words of the speech — “Four Score and Seven years ago” — reference the 1776 Declaration.

Do we still hold 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”?

Do we still comprehend the 27 charges the colonists spoke against the throne — most notably this one aimed at King George III, who had “plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our people”?

It is good to be reminded that our freedoms are never free, and by no means permanent. Every generation must reinvest with whatever the going rate of purchase demands.

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