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Today in 1776: “… conceived in liberty…”

4 Jul

Today in 1776, fifty-six men gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to discuss a public declaration of the adoption of the Lee resolution, “that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent states…”

The Declaration of Independence, originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was debated, edited, and ultimately adopted by the end of the day. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it said, “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.”

Jefferson would later write over and over again of the “sacred fire” kindled on that July day, and he knew that the light of liberty would “spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished…” (letter to John Adams, September 12, 1821). And throughout history, Jefferson has been proved right, even in his own country. Though Jefferson was never able to reconcile the issue of slavery for the Republic or even in his own personal circumstances, the sacred fire which he so succinctly captured in the Declaration would still be burning to set men free four-score and seven years later.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was leading the Army of Northern Virginia in retreat to the Potomac after the defeat at Gettysburg, and Ulysses S. Grant was leading the Union army under his command to victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The tide of Civil War was turning.

Today, our nation was, as Abraham Lincoln put it in his Gettysburg Address, “conceived in liberty.” Our country was “trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth…” (Jefferson, March 4, 1808), and today light and liberty are still on steady advance.

Happy Independence Day, friends. May every day find us “…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,” for the continual support of the freedoms upon which our country was founded, together may “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”