On our way to the 4th of July party yesterday, a friend-of-a-friend was explaining to our driver why the 4th of July was important. The driver was trying to figure out why we celebrated a day that we signed a paper on not the day the the Revolutionary War ended. A few hours later I saw a friend’s facebook status explaining that we didn’t become an independent nation until years later. So, why is July 4th, 1776 so important?
Yes, the Revolutionary War didn’t end until late 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown. Correct, the Constitution (the law of the land) was not ratified until 1787. True, George Washington didn’t take office until 1789. But on July 4th, 1776 we made a statement that meant more than just “we’re independent.” Even though it would be a decade before our country had a real government and decades still before this government could stand up on its own, 1776 was the birth of our nation in a totally different sense.
The Declaration of Independence isn’t like any other out there. Many declarations simply cite that one group of people no longer wish to be under the rule of another and wish to separate and be, well, independent. But our Declaration didn’t say the people in the thirteen colonies were claiming independence from Britain.
More than that, our declaration states that when any government mistreats its people, that it is the right (and duty) of the governed to fix or change that government. Only after making this bold statement does the declaration go into why the colonists sought separation from England by listing grievances “to a candid world.” Maybe it’s the freedom-loving side of me or the historian side, even the human rights side, but I’m pretty sure our declaration brought about a sea change in the relationship between the government and the governed and I think it is great that we can celebrate that – it’s not just the literal independence from a foreign ruler, which didn’t take place for another five years. It’s the celebration of a new idea for the world. I’d light a few fireworks for that.