On the Fourth of July, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the long process of divorcing the original 13 colonies from Great Britain and the rule of King George III.
The Revolutionary War had already been going on for more than a year at this point. It would continue for more than seven years after the declaration.
The first king to rule all of England took the throne in 927 A.D. His name was Æthelstan. (I have no idea how that is pronounced.) That means England was a country for 849 years before the American Revolution.
By contrast, the United States is only 244 years old this year. I still remember the Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. I was in elementary school in Cross Lanes, and we had a big celebration on the playground near the end of the school year. Everyone was dressed up in costumes and waved flags.
My parents also bought my brother and me a set of encyclopedias that were covered in red, white and blue. The irony that it was Encyclopedia Britannica was lost on us then.
The Declaration of Independence includes a long list of grievances toward King George and lays out the reasons, after long suffering, that it was finally time to part ways.
For me, the most important section is at the beginning, however.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
One of my favorite lines within that section is “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” No one guarantees you Happiness, but you are guaranteed the right to pursue it.
Of course, we really weren’t “equal” at the time. Slavery was a common practice and only white men who owned land could actually vote. That left out men who didn’t own land, women, and anyone of color.
Today, we are having a national discussion about whether we are equal now or not. Short answer is, we aren’t. Just like with happiness, it is still something we should pursue with every ounce of energy in our beings, though.
For me, the United States is young and having growing pains. It’s nothing we can’t get through as long as people don’t give up on the ideas set out in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Like I said, as a nation we are still less than 250 years old. I’ve been in buildings in Europe older than that. And the whole point of the Declaration of Independence is to keep working at it.
Happy Fourth of July!