Independence day means grilled food, family and of course fireworks. A day off in celebration of our independence. What is often missed, however, is how important the actions our founding fathers took really was. In July of 1775, Patrick Henry stood before the group of men, and delivered a fiery speech, telling them that “The question before us is nothing less than the question of freedom or slavery.” Most of the colonists in the 13 colonies took pride in their British citizenship, and while they were unhappy with the Stamp Act and the Tax Act, few of these men were ready to risk everything and try to revolt. Some of them were willing to do things in secret like dress up like Native Americans, sneak aboard a freight ship and dump the tea in the water, but few if any were ready to start really talking about open rebellion. Henry's speech, however held weighty words and powerful ideas. At the end of that meeting they agreed to meet the next year and draft a declaration of war.
In congress July 4, 1776 The Unanimous Declaration of Independence for the Thirteen Colonies if the United States was penned and signed. It spoke of dangerous ideas, that sadly it is easy for us to take for granted. Following the short preamble, they begin,
We take these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. These were men who had studied the thinkers of the age of reason, and to call anything
self-evident was a big deal for them. Particularly the sentiment that all men were created equal. It isn't clear if this spoke only of the white, land owning men or if this was an even more broad statement encompassing the slaves and women. The governments set up following this bold statement don't speak to the broader ideas, but Jefferson (while owning slaves himself) was a idealist pushing for abolition. Even if this “all men” concept was limited, it was practically unheard of at the time to say that, birth right doesn't matter. The nobles are not better than anyone bellow them, and the king and queen are my equals.
They continue, “That they are endowed, by their creator, with certain unalienable rights -- among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the time the idea of enlightened despotism ruled the day. God, most people thought, places kings and queens in power, and people were supposed to fall in line and blindly obey. This, however, spoke of rights for all men. Things that nature and nature's God had endowed us with. That we all had the right to live, be free and pursue our own destinies in life, a far cry from the serfdom, from religious persecution they were fleeing when they settled.
To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, follows. The idea that governments derive their power not from the divine, but from the people which the governments rule. This would mean that the governments are there to serve us, not rule over us. That governments exists solely to protect our rights.
When Governments become destructive to these rights, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to set up new government... was the treacherous claim, in the eyes of the British thrown. That if people aren't happy with the government that rules them, that they have a God given right to amend government or to forcible replace it, if it doesn't serve them.
These are the ideals our system is based. No, the system of government we have since established isn't perfect. Slavery should never have been allowed, land ownership should never have mattered, women should have had equal rights from the very beginning, and so on... But, all things considered, our system was very progressive and a huge step in the right direction. Even with their faults, I think it is important to remember what risks these founding fathers took, that we might have the freedoms we do.