Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th in the United States. “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison.
Thomas Jefferson, known for his expressive writing style, was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Ben Franklin reminded delegates of the Continental Congress of the importance of the occasion by telling them: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While we often focus on the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.
“We 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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
It is the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence that has always remained a powerful reminder of a promise among the signers of the Declaration to: “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” These men thought liberty was more important than their own lives or their very possessions. By risking everything, signers of the Declaration of Independence, men of wealth, many of whom the ultimate price—either through loss of life or prosperity.
Ronald Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” What sacrifice would we be willing to make today for freedom? That is a question we should ask frequently. Benjamin Franklin would likely respond “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The last letter Thomas Jefferson ever wrote was about the celebration of Independence Day and missing the 50th anniversary of America’s independence. He was 83 years old and would die within ten days of penning a poorly punctuated letter in 1826, that still contained brilliance within. It’s good to know he wrote that “our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.” Jefferson wrote:
“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
Freedom should never be taken for granted. Today we are debating the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. While many citizens are very passionate about our country, others seem disillusioned and some openly hostile. It is why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document. It expresses what it means to be an American. We would be wise, as a state and nation, to teach the next generation of Americans what the words of the Declaration of Independence mean. We must remind ourselves and children that there once lived men who mutually pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the love of freedom.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.