Too many Americans underappreciate the meaning of holidays such as July Fourth, also known as Independence Day. While some connect fireworks with the firing of cannons in the Revolutionary War, most forget that when the 56 members of the Continental Congress agreed to put pen to parchment and affirm the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, all knew that being a signatory put a death threat on their heads as traitors to Britain.
The War of Independence was in its second year by July 1776, and George Washington’s rag-tag colonial army was about half the size of the highly trained professional British army and the German mercenary troops fighting for the English. Additionally, Washington’s army was undertrained, underequipped, and underfunded.
The naval mismatch was even greater at the outset of the war. In the first year of the war, the Continental Navy had fewer than 10 converted merchant ships while the British amassed 250 dedicated warships, concentrated along the coastline and in ports between the Delaware Bay and Boston. Things appeared grim indeed for the patriot cause.
The last sentence of the Declaration of Independence before the space allotted for signatures reads, “…for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protections of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Indeed, July Fourth for the founders was a serious and somber occasion.
As we think about July Fourth, we should remember that America was first in human history to establish a free and independent constitutional republic based on two political and moral principles. First, the government was required to protect its citizens’ inalienable God-given freedom and rights, which would later be formalized in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Second, it was the first country to establish that the legitimacy of government resides exclusively in the people, who elect their leaders.
Modern Americans need to remember that prior nations around the world for thousands of years were undemocratic and hierarchical, with rulers and their inner circles at the top having the power and privileges while people at the bottom had few rights. Before America was established, freedom and rights as we understand and experience them simply did not exist. We must never forget the courage, determination, and godly principles that were necessary to establish the United States.
General George Washington was in New York, preparing its defense, when on July 6, 1776, a courier from Philadelphia arrived to deliver a copy of the Declaration of Independence that had been agreed upon by delegates of the Continental Congress just two days before. There were just two signatures on that document: John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, and Secretary Charles Thomson. Because the odds of prevailing against the British were so low and the penalty for treason was death, it had been decided not to reveal the identities of the other 54 who had voted for the Declaration.
Less than six months later, however, after Washington had back-to-back victories, defeating British forces in Trenton, New Jersey, the day after Christmas 1776, and then routing the British in nearby Princeton eight days later, the Continental Congress perceived that a trend toward victory had begun and decided to release the 56-signature Declaration and distribute it throughout the colonies.
As it turned out, Washington would lose more battles than he won, but he persisted for five more years, never doubting the patriot cause. Myriad developments that only providence could have arranged made Washington’s final victory at Yorktown possible in 1781.
In retrospect, what was more remarkable was not the reversal of odds resulting in the American military victory, but rather the spiritual power of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which established that the rights of the people came from God and not the state and that the sovereign powers of the state would be shaped and limited by those inalienable rights of the citizens.
When God was progressively driven out of American culture starting 60-odd years ago, that void became filled with false idols and divisive influences such as cultural Marxism and critical race theory. Little wonder that average Americans today feel demoralized and confused about the self-destructive direction of the country. A corrupt ruling elite in America seems to have neither respect for the people’s welfare nor for the Constitution that served previous generations of Americans so well.
Everything can change if Americans align their interests with God, who assures us that in time truth will triumph over lies and good over evil. Just as success followed the resolve expressed on July 4, 1776, we too can tap into the same unstoppable spiritual power that enabled the founders to overcome impossible odds.
Coming full circle from the opening observation that many have an insufficient appreciation for the meaning behind holidays, when the term holiday originally came into usage it was synonymous with “holy day.” July Fourth is truly the American holy day for the reasons described.
It is axiomatic that almost everyone resists others seeking to deny or take away valuable possessions from him. Let’s make this July Fourth a day of celebration of our founding ideals but also a time of renewed commitment to engage and wake up our nation.
We know it’s time to resist creeping tyranny and reclaim precious possessions — our freedoms and rights. It’s time to become active in the patriot cause, knowing that — just as the sun comes up in the east — persistence, courage, and the truth of our cause are the shield and sword that assure victory.