Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

July 4, 2014

Freedom’s promise

VALDOSTA — In retrospect, it is easy to forget that the approval of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, was a revolutionary act. As Americans, we have celebrated the Fourth of July for 238 years, but we often forget that it took a war of eight long years to ensure the United States’ separation from the British Empire.

Since we know the outcome, we take for granted that the Founding Fathers also knew they would win. We forget that failure to secure independence would possibly mean the Declaration would become their death warrant.

We forget that had the American Revolution failed, Britain would have likely branded the signers as traitors, and our Founding Fathers would have been executed, imprisoned or exiled.

Since we know how it all ended, we overlook that the Founding Fathers had no idea what would happen next. In July 1776, they only knew that they were taking a bold step.

The Declaration pitted a loose confederation of argumentative colonies against Britain, which was then the world’s predominant superpower with an empire and resources spanning the globe. The founders knew the hazards of this conflict while our generations, which have lived with the concept of America as a superpower for decades, tend to forget that our ancestors were financially and militarily outmatched.

So, we often skim over the courage and faith of the Founders based on our knowledge of the outcome. We take for granted the revolutionary idea that the founders proposed. The Declaration of Independence promised a new type of nation.

The most extraordinary idea in the Declaration — perhaps the most important and crucial line penned in all of American history — is, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” It is this one line which has led some historians to refer to the Declaration as “American Scripture.” The Declaration is not a document of how a nation should be governed that is the purpose of the Constitution, but its words of equality have become a calling card for the nation’s purpose.

The Founders could not know how these words would shape their new nation and the world. The majority of the founders believed equality extended only to land-owning, white males. They possibly could not have predicted that the Declaration would become a promise for all Americans, man, woman and child, regardless of race, religion or creed.

But the promises of the document, of the Fourth of July, of the American ideal remain. It is a promise of freedom that we should never take for granted.

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