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The Real Meaning of July 4th

Each year on Independence Day the U.S. is filled with parades, fireworks and hot dogs. July 4th is a great day to celebrate.

The founding of the United States was a tremendous change from the governments and institutions of the time. Based in part on the writings of such philosophers as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, the Founders believed that government derives its power from the governed, that government power is limited, and that individuals are entitled to certain rights as an matter of citizenship.

England at the time of the revolution was the super-power of its day and the colonies were largely a collection of farms and hamlets located near the Atlantic coast. Opposition to English authority was not a matter undertaken lightly and many in the colonies did not support the revolution. Along with others in the Revolutionary War, the small group of Founding Fathers literally risked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to create a better form of government. For some, the decision to sign the Declaration of Independence would mean impoverishment, ruin and imprisonment.

The experiment which started with the signing of the Declaration of Independence was hardly perfect, whatever “perfect” might define. Women certainly did not have equality and the revolution permitted the practice of slavery. As St. George Tucker explained in 1796:

“Whilst America hath been the land of promise to Europeans, and their descendants, it hath been the vale of death to millions of the wretched sons of Africa,– he wrote. “The genial light of liberty, which hath here shone with unrivalled lustre on the former, hath yielded no comfort to the latter, but to them hath proved a pillar of darkness, whilst it hath conducted the former to the most enviable state of human existence. Whilst we were offering up vows at the shrine of Liberty, and sacrificing hecatombs upon her altars; whilst we swore irreconcilable hostility to her enemies, and hurled defiance in their faces; whilst we adjured the God of Hosts to witness our resolution to live free, or die, and imprecated curses on their heads who refused to unite with us in establishing the empire of freedom; we were imposing upon our fellow men, who differ in complexion from us, a slavery, ten thousand times more cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions, of which we complained.”

More than two hundred years later we continue to debate how government is best organized and operated, yet the ideas and systems set in motion during the summer of 1776 remain central to us today. As Franklin Roosevelt said in 1941, “since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change — in a perpetual peaceful revolution — a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions — without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch.”

Enjoy the 4th, be safe, speak to your children about our history — and please use the links below and visit our historic places.

Our Founding Documents
The Declaration of Independence
The Constitution of the United States

The Signers
The Signers of The Declaration of Independence
The Price They Paid

Important Notions
The English Bill of Rights
Civil Disobedience by Henry Thoreau
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
The Federalist Papers
Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy, 1960
A Second Bill of Rights, Franklin Roosevelt
The Four Freedoms, Franklin Roosevelt
Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death, Patrick Henry (As recorded by Henry St. George Tucker)
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbs
The Writings of John Locke

Historic Places
The White House
The Capitol Building at Washington
The Supreme Court
Federal Hall, New York City
Independence Hall
Washington’s Mount Vernon
Jefferson’s Monticello
Colonial Williamsburg

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Published originally in part by Realty Times in 2001 and posted with permission.

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