Independence Day! It is the anniversary of the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by the Continental Congress, and as Founding Father John Adams predicted that year that it would be, it is “celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.”
Said Adams in 1776, “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
And, indeed, it has been. We celebrate and even enjoy “illuminations” throughout the nation, which is probably our most popular and distinct way of marking this most important anniversary in our country’s history.
As I reflect on the event that gave birth to this national celebration, I am always amazed at the men who came together to dissolve the new nation’s allegiance and all political connection with Great Britain and agree on the parchment’s most importance sentence: “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.”
Those Founding Fathers represented a cross-section of the 18th century U.S. leadership. Many were born in the Thirteen Colonies, but at least nine were born in other parts of the British Empire.
Some were lawyers, some were land surveyors, and some were merchants or ministers. Farmers, scientists, land speculators, diplomats, state governors, physicians, college presidents – most were practitioners of high and middle-class occupations.
Many were married, some were bachelors; some owned slaves, some opposed slavery and didn’t; many were Anglicans, some were Protestants, some were Roman Catholics, some were neither Christians nor Deists, but rather supporters of a hybrid “theistic rationalism.”
Alexander Hamilton was only 19 years old, while Benjamin Franklin was 70 and Samuel Whittemore, 81.
The point is: This was a group of men from varied occupations, ages, religions, birthplaces, and life-experiences and beliefs. But they came together for a cause greater than themselves – their country – and found a way to agree on a path to independence.
And ultimately, as people probably would today, nobody complained, that we’re aware of, that John Hancock signed his name bigger than anyone else or argued over who got to sign first or second or third.
That is the kind of leadership we need today, and how we wish that our legislators would, this Independence Day, redefine their priorities, putting our country’s well-being ahead of their election campaigns and political party platforms and do some independent thinking.
Our Founding Fathers did it, and these leaders several generations down the line could learn much from their example.