July 4, 1776, the day of the Declaration of Independence’s signing, was a glorious day in our country’s history. With a stroke of a pen, our founders sealed an enduring document representing the triumph of liberty over tyranny. And yet, centuries after this, one of the most important events in our country’s history, it’s easy to gloss over the Fourth of July as just another holiday.
To appreciate why our independence from the British crown is not only a cause worth celebrating but also a cause worth defending, we must remember what our founding fathers fought and died for.
As the history books tell us, our country’s struggle for independence was not easy. We were clearly outnumbered and lacking an organized army, and other countries looked skeptically at our cause. In a world where kingdoms and monarchies were the norm, the idea that governments must derive their just powers from the consent of the governed was indeed revolutionary. In short, the prevailing wisdom was that mankind could not govern itself.
And yet, thousands upon thousands of American colonists joined the fight for independence despite the seemingly insurmountable odds. What compelled so many to fight, knowing that they could easily perish against the greatest naval power of the day?
Perhaps one of the most revealing answers to this question was given by Captain Levi Preston, a Revolutionary War veteran, decades after the fight for independence. In historian Matthew Spalding’s book Why We Still Hold These Truths, we learn that Captain Preston was not motivated to fight because of the Stamp Act or after reading the writings of John Locke. Instead, Captain Scott responded, “What we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”
This pithy but powerful sentiment conveys man’s strong, simple desire to live free — and helps explain why we have always been skeptical of being told what to do.
Of course, summoning the will to fight is one thing, but agreeing to tough it out when the surroundings are bleak is a distinctly different proposition. And yet that’s precisely what every soldier in the Revolutionary Army did as they faced the elements, lost limbs, shed blood and went for days without food — all for the cause of independence and freedom. As Thomas Paine so eloquently put it, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
And in one of the most remarkable expressions of blind determination and bravery, the man who would later become our first president led an expedition on the choppy and icy waters of the Delaware River to capture and kill nearly 1,000 Hessians in the Battle of Trenton.
This scene was far removed from the hot and humid Assembly Room in Philadelphia where our founding fathers first gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence on that fourth day of July, 1776. We celebrate this day, and not other decisive days in our country’s fight for independence — and yet they are no less significant.
The ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence are worth celebrating and defending, particularly today. All around us, we are witnessing an insidious encroachment on our liberties by an ever-more intrusive and far-reaching federal government that promises us the world.
On this Fourth of July, let’s pause to reflect on our country’s anniversary of independence as well as on the struggle it took to achieve that independence. And let us remember that at the heart of what makes our country exceptional is our country’s founding, rooted in the triumph of liberty over tyranny.