When I was young, I remember the 4th of July being all about fireworks and BBQ. We’d go down to the local municipal park, go out on the boat; fish, swim and end the night with a bang watching the fireworks go off. Other than Christmas, there wasn’t a much better holiday for a kid. As I reflect back upon the holiday now, I see it in a very different light.
The 4th of July is one of our few holidays that doesn’t fall within the school year, where teachers can reinforce the hallowed meanings of our sacred days….Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, etc. And although all of us know it is our Independence Day, I think very few of us understand the daring and courageous act our founding fathers took by signing the Declaration of Independence that summer in Philadelphia. In signing that document, and taking a stand against a monarchy an ocean away, our forefathers were risking their very lives for the mere chance of freedom and a more perfect form of government.
In a way, signing the declaration was akin to Cortes burning his ships once he reached the new land. There was only one way forward; and their very survival depended on their success. As Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have said, “we must all hang together, or surely, we shall all hang separately.” And although we all know how the story ends; as we reap the fruits that those brave men sowed for us 241 years ago today; few of us know the steep price that was paid by the signers.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence; 5 were captured and tortured by the British before they died of their injuries; 12 had their homes ransacked and burned to the ground, losing everything; 9 fought and died in the Revolutionary War, succumbing to their wounds or hardships faced in their service. They lost sons and daughters, wives and siblings to the war. And while most of these men were educated men of means when they signed the declaration, many of them died broke having lost everything in pursuit of our United States.
They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on a dream of a nation where men were free, under a better form of government. When I think of the risk they took and the price they paid, I am humbled by the gift their act of rebellion gave to the rest of us over the course of the next 241 years. I am reminded of the end of the second verse of America the Beautiful, where it says, “America, America, God mend thine ev'ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law.” It serves as a reminder of the awesome responsibility that falls to each of us to continue to this grand experiment put into motion so many years ago. Together we must work with one another, in measured tones, and civil discourse to solve the problems that face us as a nation, bridge our differences, and ensure our great republic stands for centuries more.
As I sit back and watch the fireworks this year, the sacrifice of those men will be in the forefront of my mind. And I will wonder if they could have ever imagined that their intrepid act on the 4th of July, 1776 would lead to the creation of the greatest and strongest nation on earth.
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