This week we celebrate the Fourth of July, the day that our founders declared their independence from Great Britain. This declaration action came after a long history of imposition by King George III. While it might seem as though this is ancient history, there are applicable lessons to remember today.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," the document begins, "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 effect their Safety and Happiness."
This was a fundamental structural change in the way that rights and governments were viewed and understood. No longer were rights held by the king, who then gave them to his subjects and took them from his subjects based on his will or his whim. Instead, it was declared that rights were endowed by God to individuals who, in turn, loaned rights to their elected officials. This meant that these loaned rights could be taken back by the people if they were not properly used.
Our founders concluded the document with the pledge to each other and an invocation of God. "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
The founders signed our Declaration of Independence with the knowledge that the declaration would be viewed as an act of treason by the king. They knew that if they were not successful in their fight for freedom, they risked losing their lives.
They took this risk after great deliberation and with a firm understanding of the potential consequences. This was not a hasty decision, but rather a thoughtful and deliberate act. They were willing to die for freedom for themselves, their families and this newly formed country.
President Abraham Lincoln, when commemorating the Battle at Gettysburg that occurred 150 years ago, from July 1 to July 3, connected the sacrifice of those that died at Gettysburg to our Founding Fathers. While doing so, with only 278 words, he never used the words I or me, but focused on what actions could be taken by those left to honor those who had died.