John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence, which he completed in 1819. The oil painting features the Committee of Five, who primarily wrote the Declaration of Independence. From left to right, they are standing, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
Eric Yollick, Editor-in-Chief, The Golden Hammer
Happy Independence Day!
Independence from what? Is our celebration merely that we gained independence from the mercurial George III, King of Great Britain? Or was Great Britain itself so awful that we celebrate our independence from its heavy-handed rule? Perhaps, even we celebrate independence from the Tories within our own midst who defied popular will and remained loyal to the laws and traditions of the British Empire?
In truth, the Independence we celebrate on July 4 is none of those.
America stands for exceptionalism. Particularly since the end of the American Civil War, a heartwrenching cleansing of sins through blood sorrow, the United States of America led the world in vast innovations, technological advancement, industrial might, the ideology of freedom, and even a Second Great Awakening towards the strength which faith in God instills in every man, woman, and child.
Amazingly, the Independence we celebrate on July 4 is none of those either.
Rather, Independence Day celebrates the culmination of one of the most important ideas man has ever devised: that all lawful Earthly power derives from the people and must be held in check to preserve their freedom. That is the central tenet of Americanism. It’s the basic purpose of the American Constitution.
We do not celebrate independence from anything. Rather, we celebrate the motive force we created when we devised a Nation whose power derives from the people. That social compact resulted in a land where creativity continues to explode everyday, even though government’s recent largesse now impedes it. America is the nation where two kids built the first real personal computer in their garage, from where a man walked on the Moon, which brought the mental and physical prowess capable of defeating Hitler and Hirohito in World War II, and which brought railroads and cars into everyday lives.
Independence is an idea, which began with the philosophy of English philosopher John Locke, who based his writings on Genesis, in his Second Treatise of Government published in 1689. Voltaire, the great Enlightenment philosopher, emphasized the importance of the human individual and his relationship with God. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes write in 1651, that all legitimate government must spring from a social contract.
A century later, two American intellectuals, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, took those concepts seriously and put them into a living social contract, which the Second Continental Congress dubbed “The Declaration of Independence.” The real and original instrument sits within a beautiful gold glass case in the National Archives at 701 Constitution Avenue, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia 20408.
How remarkable it is that we can actually go to see the original instrument, which represents the social contract forming the United States of America! How amazing it is that we still have largely intact (although under serious threat) a form of government which represents the strength of ideas rather than the whims of particular men.
It is certainly true that men grasp for power. They’ll claim they speak for God. They’ll claim they speak for other right. They’ll claim they speak for others. They’ll claim whatever they must in order to gain power, attention, or mere fame. But that’s where American exceptionalism comes to the fore to protect us on many occasions. First, Americans remain wary of those who seek power and attention by claiming the gift of speaking for God or for others. Second, claims by individuals to large swaths of power are clear violations of our social compact, and many Americans remain mature and sensitive enough to recognize that fact.
Fundamentally, the Independence we celebrate is the success we have enjoyed as a people springing from the concept that all lawful Earthly power derives from us and that we have a continuing duty to hold power in check to preserve our freedom. Today’s celebration is nothing more and nothing less. It’s for all of the world to enjoy.