What Do We Celebrate on the 4th of July?
On July 4th, 241 years ago, 13 British colonies in America declared their independence from Great Britain. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day 2017, perhaps you’d like to join me in taking some time to reflect on the events and the issues of the past that connect us so inexplicably with the people we are today.
From Theory to Practice – A First
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he was reflecting on the principles of the Age of Enlightenment when he wrote:
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.
This was Enlightenment theory, but it had not been set to practice. Nowhere in the world at this time had there been a government instituted on the consent of the governed (McCullough, 2017). These were high ideals in an age of monarchy where most of the civilized world still believed in the divine right of kings.
Intrepid Multicultural Adventurers
Who were the people – the colonists in America who had cultivated a wilderness and built “a city upon a hill” in Boston? They were Pilgrims and Puritans that were “harried out of the land” in England by King James I to build a “New England” 3,000 miles across the sea. During the Civil War in England, the Anglicans – Church of England men came to develop plantations in the south to escape Cromwell’s persecution during the Commonwealth. Quakers settled Pennsylvania, Catholics settled Maryland , and Jews enjoyed freedoms in the colonies that they had not seen for over two thousand years. “America was like some strange new garden where all kinds of transplanted vegetables and flowers lived together in vigorous incompatibility, growing with astonishing speed in that fertile ground and developing, in the process, new strains and varieties” (Smith, 1976, p.27).
Most were highly principled men and women possessed of high ideals; most placed honor and their word above their very lives. This is the foundation upon which the culture of America can be seen today. Love of freedom is the spirit that unites the people of America who have become so many times more diverse as others came to our shores to escape wars, famine, and despotic governments in search of a better life.
A Vision of Independence
St. John Crevecoeur, in his Letters from an American Farmer (written after the French and Indian War in the 1760s, but not published until 1782), wrote “The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe. …We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory…united by silken cords of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable. We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained because each person works for himself.” This was a vision of a new and different world. Opportunity was the common thread that ran through the colonies.
In 1763, The Treaty of Paris greatly expanded British territories in America formerly held by France. Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, “It was a glorious peace, the most advantageous to Great Britain, in my opinion, of any in our history. Canada and the eastern half of Louisiana are ours, along with Florida and the land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi, including the Ohio Valley. Throughout the continent, I find it universally approved and applauded. The glory of Britain was never higher than at present” (Mills, 2017). What happened in America that changed a population of happy and industrious people, proud to be called citizens of Great Britain, to declare their independence from the mother country?
History Brought to Life – In Your Life
There are many connections that can be made that brought about The Gathering Storm in America and that led to Independence Now! – The story of the Declaration of Independence. We celebrate the stories of the founding of America with History Brought to Life at American Heritage Publications.
Our Founding Fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to a document that labeled them traitors to the mother country. If they were captured by the British, it was a death warrant. Honor meant their reputation and their good name. It was based upon thoughtful and objective reflection, personal integrity, and pursuit of the truth.
We would be interested in learning about the connections you make when listening to these stories. Close your eyes and listen to Mercy Otis Warren, the first person to publish a history of the American Revolution, as she takes you into the events that led to the founding of our country. Tell us what you’ve learned in making connections with the past. What do lessons from history teach us about some of the issues we face in America today?
Beverly Mills is the founder of Heritage Publications Teaching Programs, based on her love of American history and the many interactive teaching programs she has created. She enjoys blogging about some of the treasures she discovers as the researches and teaches her favorite subject.
McCullough, D. (2017). The American Spirit. Who We Are and What we Stand For. New York: Simon & Shuster.
Mills, T. N. (2017). The Gathering Storm in America. American Heritage Publications. Retrieved from http://www.americanheritagepublications.com/the-gathering-storm-in-america/
Mills, T. N. (2017). Independence Now! American Heritage Publications. Retrieved from http://www.americanheritagepublications.com/independence-now/
St. John Crevecoeur, J. H. (1782). Letters from an American Farmer. Retrieved from http://web.utk.edu/~mfitzge1/docs/374/creve.pdf
Smith, P. (1976). The History of America. A New Age Now Begins, Part One. Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press.