Monday, July 4, 2011

A Declaration of Independence.

After approving Richard Henry Lee's resolution declaring independence on 2 July 1776, the delegates of the Continental Congress began discussing the text of the formal declaration. The draft Jefferson's submitted to the Congress already reflected revisions suggested by the other drafting committee members, especially those by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The delegates devoting much of their 3 July agenda completing additional revisions of the document, including the ending professing their "reliance on the protection of Divine Providence."

On 4 July 1776 the Congress approved the final text of the Declaration of Independence.

So why is Independence Day celebrated on July fourth instead of July second?

One reason is that it defines the ideas, or ideals, upon which our founders established the nation. In the absence of the traditional ethic, linguistic, religious, and geographic attributes of national identity, the Declaration of Independence substitutes an ideology. As historian Richard Hofstadter put it, "It is our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one." Moreover, because the Declaration of Independence is so intertwined with the creation and definition of a new people, it has assumed a quasi-religious standing not unlike the Ten Commandments to the ancient Hebrews. Some writers have, in fact, referred to the Declaration as the American testament or American scripture.

But the ideas contained in the Declaration did not originate from Jefferson. They consisted of a synthesis from many sources. As Jefferson himself explained in a letter written 1in 1825, shortly before the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration:

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c."

The next few posts will look at those sentiments.

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