The events leading up to July 4, 1776 are well documented in U.S. history books and historical documents, and almost every American will tell you that we became a free nation on the Fourth. Technically, that’s not entirely true.
The British imposed the Tea Act of 1773, which set everything in motion. Up to that point, the settlers who had come to America were impartial to the rule of their prior homeland. Essentially, the Tea Act was an effort to save the East India Company by lowering their tax rate and giving them a monopoly on the tea trade in the Americas.
Outraged, the colonists revolted by tossing eighteen thousand pounds of tea into Boston Harbor, known as the Boston Tea Party. This angered the British so much they put Boston under military rule. So, not only did they try to enforce tax tyranny, but punished the colonists by closing the city to merchants.
Imagine what our history would look like had the British not drawn up the Tea Act?
Of course, this led to the fateful day of April 19, 1775 when the first shots were fired on the Lexington green. Thus began the Revolutionary War in which the colonists fought for their freedom. They wanted freedom from tyranny and religious persecution, with a burning desire to lead a life in which one could pursue happiness in whatever manner they deemed fit.
After fighting for fourteen months, the Continental Congress declared independence on July 2, 1776. Yes, you read that right: July 2nd, not the 4th. Some think the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, when in fact it was signed on August 2nd. Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in June of 1776.
So, what did actually happen on July 4th? That was the day that the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was accepted by the Continental Congress. It was a document that was created in an effort to communicate to the colonists, the British, and to the whole world that this nation would become and exist as a free land.
Our forefathers saw America as a land where government was decided by the people, for the people. Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper and elegantly wrote the words that sent a wave around the world, striking a chord in the heart of every revolutionary and every monarch:
“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 affect their Safety and Happiness.”
The Declaration of Independence was our forefathers way of sharing their vision in creating a nation where the people ruled the government, not the other way around. When you look at all the Amendments, the Bill of Rights … it is clear that the goal was to create a country in which every man was equal, just as he is in the eyes of God.
How far we have strayed from that ideal today.
Jefferson also wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
So, this Fourth of July, when you enjoy your hot dogs and cheeseburgers under the American flag while watching the spectacular fireworks in your home town, remember why we are celebrating the birth of our nation and how it came to be. Remember the vision our forefathers had: living in a nation where you are free to speak your mind without fear of government retribution, to do as you please within the confines of the law.
And remember… our forefathers would never trade liberty for security. In the famous words of Patrick Henry in 1775: “Give me Liberty or give me death!”