On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress at a meeting in Philadelphia selected a committee which included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. They were charged with drafting a document that would formally sever ties between the colonies and Great Britain. The final draft, written by the hand of Thomas Jefferson and known as The Declaration of Independence, was officially adopted by the Continental Congress by a unanimous vote on July 4th. After its passage, Ben Franklin was asked, “Well Dr. Franklin. What have you given us?” He replied, “You have a republic, Madame. If you can keep it”. And so, the great experiment in American Democracy was born.
In 1870, Congress established July, 4th (Independence Day) as an official holiday and ever since we Americans celebrate the birth of our nation with parades, barbecues, festivals and fireworks. Too often, lost in the celebrations is the meanings of the words that many of us were taught to recite in grade school “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.”
Few at the time gave much prediction that this fledgling group of 13 colonies, through their Continental Congress, had much hope for even a brief period of success with their new republic. But the constitutional government that followed with its individual liberty, elected representatives and limited powers survived the challenges of time, opposition and war. On June 24, 1826, Thomas Jefferson sent his last letter to Congress in celebration of the 50th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence. In it he wrote,
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be … the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
In celebrating this July 4th holiday let us rededicate ourselves to the basic fundamentals of our great society and work together in unity to resolve the many challenges facing our nation in these modern times.
As Optimist Club members let us remind our youth of the truly unique gift that has been granted to us in The Declaration of Independence; the rights of individual freedom, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.
May you all have a wonderfully memorable and safe Independence Day celebration.
Yours in Optimism,
Mark Cropp, President