Editorial: Jefferson's words still inspire us
Today we celebrate the bold and defiant words of Thomas Jefferson; the courageous and persistent military campaign led by Gen. George Washington and the 240 years of American liberty and freedom that followed.
It was on this date in 1776 that the Continental Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, listing their many grievances against their British rulers and concluding with this:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Jefferson stressed in the declaration that this was a last resort, taken only after the British had refused all attempts at compromise and reason.
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed,” the declaration states. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Of course, declaring independence and achieving it are two different things. It took several years of bloody armed conflict before the United State would gain its independence. On July 9, Washington had the declaration read to his troops in preparation for the battles to come. By August, the Redcoats had defeated Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island, and by September the British had occupied New York City.
The Declaration of Independence allowed other countries to recognize the United States as a new nation. France entered the war on the side of the colonists in 1778. In 1781, the British Army surrendered to the Continental Army at Yorktown, Virginia.
It wasn’t until years later that we established July 4 as the date of our independence and an annual cause for celebration. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826 helped spread the idea of this date as a national holiday. In 1870, Congress finally established July 4 as a national holiday.
Today, the words written by Jefferson 240 years ago remain a symbol of the American spirit of freedom, liberty and independence.