A Revised Note on Why We Celebrate Independence Day on the Fourth of July

Last Fourth of July, I offered some thoughts on why we celeberate the Fourth as Indendence Day. I have revised it and offer it again today.

Every American knows that July 4 is Independence Day. The day that American formally separated herself from England. But as many popular beliefs surrounding America's origins, the truth is more complex. In reality, the Continental Congress declared the independence of the colonies on July 2, 1776, by adopting this resolution:
Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Why then, do we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July?

Because on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Our Founding Father realized that a simple statement resolving independence was insufficient to justify the Revolution. The United States had a duty to formally and publicly justify its independence to the world. To accomplish that task, the Continental Congress formed a committee to draft a document. The members of the committee were: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman.

Thomas Jefferson, a gifted writer, took the laboring oar in drafting the document. He finished his task in 17 days. The committee approved the draft and submitted it to Congress; which leads us to another one of those little known facts about the American Revolution. Though Thomas Jefferson had relied heavily on Christian political philosophers -- most notably John Locke -- he left out some divine language. Literally. Jefferson's draft omitted some of its most notable phrases, including: that men are "endowed by their Creator" with certain inalienable rights, that the United States through the Declaration was "appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions", and that the United States was undertaking the task of liberty with a "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." Jefferson, however, did not write a completely secular draft. He included a reference to "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

But Congress was not dissatisfied with the draft and found its references to God insufficient. The rest of the Founders wanted overt, explicit references to God and a direct appeal to Him as the Judge of their cause. The Committee itself added the reference to our rights being "endowed by their Creator." The full Continental Congress added the appeal to the Supreme Judge of the World and the reliance on providence. With these additions in mind, we can see that the Declaration of Independence was not just a political document, as we understand politics today. Indeed, the revised Declaration seems quite religious. But to the Founders, there could be no strict separation of God and politics. Because the very basic rights upon which this nation justified its existence flowed directly from God, it would be foolish to omit him from the Declaration. Politics, then, to the Founders of this country were inherently religious.

It was this document. This revised Declaration which candidly acknowledged God and appealed to Him to justify this nation’s existence, which was signed on July 4, 1776.

To the overwhelming number of Americans during the Revolution (including the vast majority of Founding Fathers), God was inextricably bound together with freedom, independence, and good government. They believed that we could not even begin the process of independence and establishing a new country without Him. Though some may have attempted to downplay this aspect of American liberty, they were rebuffed (as was Jefferson's more secular draft) by their contemporaries. It was likely just such attempts that prompted George Washington to state the following in his Farewell Speech:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.... And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

So why do we celebrate our Independence Day on the 4th of July? Because of the power and elegance of the Declaration of Independence. The American Revolution was not about a date in time. It was about ideas. It was about freedom. It was about rights. And, it was about God. And all that the Revolution was about, the Declaration states. It was not the decision of a few men on July 2, 1776, that gave us liberty and founded our nation. Rather, it was the ideals and beliefs upon which they based their actions. By adopting the Declaration of Independence, the Congress embraced the ideals that continue to give us liberty. Thus, the 4th of July is the "real" Independence Day.

Finally, to the soldiers, sailors, and marines who are risking their lives around the world to preserve the freedoms articulated in the Declaration, may God give you safety, comfort, and victory.

God Bless America and have a Happy Fourth of July.

[For some further Fourth of July reflections, check out Just A Woman's thoughts on a Fourth of July Prayer.]


Peter Kirby said…
I read in a big tome on Thomas Jefferson that the Declaration of Independence wasn't actually signed by him and the rest of Congress until some months after July 4. I think the Continental Congress voted on the DoI that day or something. Something to look into for trivia's sake.
Layman said…
I think that's correct. They voted to adopt the DoI on that day as it is now, but it actually took a while for everyone to get around to signing it.

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