What Standing Up for Liberty Meant in 1776

Along with all the patriotic joy and hoopla of fireworks, family barbeques and parades that will mark the celebration of America’s 237th birthday this year, most of us also pause to honor the courage of our Founders who wrote and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence. You can read the text of the Declaration here.

That Declaration was and is one of the most consequential and profound documents in all of the world’s history. It was a civilization-altering statement that all of us have rights from our Creator. These are rights, they explained, that belong to all of us — innately and absolutely — regardless of what any government says. Bravery was required by the signers: it was a frontal assault on one of the world’s mightiest powers and on the long established and unquestioned power of the King of England.

Consider the bravery and nobility:

  • Those who gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in July of 1776 were successful professionals and leaders: many were doctors, pastors, business owners and farmers. Twenty-four of the fifty-six signers were judges and lawyers.
  • The signers of the Declaration were not demanding their “fair share.” Their goal was not to demand personal gain, or anyone else’s money, but to defend the principles of liberty, justice and representative government.
  • These men were the elite of society. They were thriving under the system they were dedicating themselves to overthrow. They put their wealth at risk, and most of them lost everything.
  • As these liberty-loving men voted to adopt the Declaration, a large fleet of British ships was already anchored in New York Harbor. They risked nothing so trivial as society’s mockery or shunning, but genuine and imminent threat to life and limb.
  • Not only were they putting their own lives on the line, they knew they were endangering the families they loved. Many lost their own lives, and the lives of their precious wives, sons and other loved ones.
  • Today we view these men as morally justified in their opposition to tyranny, and as founding heroes, but at the time they adopted the Declaration, many of their own neighbors and family members were opposed to their actions. Historians disagree on what portion of the colonists supported the Revolution, but most say that at least 20% supported the British Crown.
  • No pollsters existed to tell these founders if their ideas were popular, or seen as politically correct. They had to know in their hearts and minds.
  • They did not know, when they voted to adopt the Declaration on July 4th 1776, or when they signed it on August 2nd of that year, how the war would come out. They did not know if they would all perish under a crushing defeat by the British, or if they would succeed. They just knew their ideas were right.
  • The ideals they embraced — that all men are created equal, and have unalienable rights with which our Creator has endowed us, that those rights include Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, that government exists to secure those rights, and that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed — were, on the world’s stage of political ideas, a radical basis on which to found a nation.
  • None could have possibly envisioned the nation that Declaration birthed. They pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor without having any way of knowing that the America they were fighting to establish would become the beacon of freedom and hope for the whole world.

A broader understanding of the timeless concepts these noble men included in the Declaration is desperately needed today in many troubled corners around the globe, where tyranny, religious and political repression, radical jihadist Islam, and the evils of socialism and communism, crush liberty and the individual. And that broader understanding of America’s founding ideals is needed here at home, in America.

Without the kind of bravery that stands up for principle and not personal gain, that is willing to risk life, property and personal ridicule to demand justice, liberty, and a responsive and representative government, there would be no July 4th, no America.

God bless those Founders. God bless America.

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