Two hundred thirty-seven years ago today, a group of men from all the colonies scattered across the eastern North American seaboard gathered in Philadelphia and considered their position. They sought the most self-evident things: basic liberties and self-governance. The tools they had at hand were a few militias, mostly of yeoman farmers, and the power of their convictions. Arrayed against them were the forces of a powerful monarchy, the world's most potent fleet, an experienced professional army, and a globe-spanning empire with possessions on every single continent.
The Americans didn't have a chance. But they did have a prayer. And so, with the "Appeal to Heaven" for their rights and liberties, they cast the die in the only way their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor would allow: They declared independence.
The Declaration of July 4th, 1776, was not the fulfillment of the American nation's aspirations for law-governed liberty. It was the beginning of a long and fraught process—not only of Revolutionary War, but of revolutionary society that definitively overturned the old order of unearned privilege, hereditary aristocracy, and arbitrary rule. The story of that transformation into a nation "of the people, by the people, for the people," as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, is the story of America itself, written on the hearts and histories of our ancestors from Valley Forge to the Underground Railroad to the Arsenal of Democracy to the Tea Parties and beyond. Whenever a patriot left his farm to fight General Gage's soldiers … whenever a pioneer scoured prairie ground with its first plow … whenever an explorer sighted new land in the distant West … whenever a slave yearned for freedom, or a freedman set himself to productive labor for his own sake … whenever a woman left home for the munitions factories that would beat the Axis … and whenever an immigrant set foot on our shores with nothing but a dream and the liberty to achieve it … that story continued.
The story is unfinished. We live it today. And to us falls the task, as it fell to our forefathers, of securing the ideals of the Declaration anew with every generation. "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," said Reagan, and he was right—but that also means it is always one generation away from fulfillment. The Declaration of Independence we celebrate again and again with every year retains its enduring quality because of that simple truth. And we are reminded even in Texas, now, that we may never slacken in our devotion to seeing it sustained. The alternative—the replacement of republican democracy with the democracy of the mob—is too terrible to contemplate.
This is the 237th anniversary of American independence. On the 150th anniversary, President Calvin Coolidge reminded the Americans of his era to always remember its central importance in our life and prosperity:
"[T]he Declaration of Independence … is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp."
It is an admonition worth recalling today. Our rights and dignities as men and women are the gift of our Creator, or "Nature's God" as the Founders wrote: but our privileges and blessings as Americans flow from the font of that Declaration of Independence signed 237 years ago. The men who put their names to that rebellion for liberty risked their lives and honor to see its promise made whole. They would give no less, and they could give no more.
And we today, in Texas and beyond, owe them the same full measure of devotion to that same cause. Happy Fourth of July.
Yours in American liberty,
Brooke L. Rollins, President & CEO