Millions of Americans celebrate Independence Day each year with barbeque and brilliant firework displays amongst family and friends. Yet too often we forget the significance of the day and the brave Americans who risked their lives to found a visionary nation with freedom and equality for all.
Fifty-six men rose to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The largest and most famous signature belongs to John Hancock who served as President of the Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest signer at 70 years old and the youngest was Edward Rutlege at the age of just 26. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who would each go on to serve as President also signed the Declaration.
Before declaring independence in 1776, the American colonists were considered British subjects. They paid taxes to Great Britain and had fines levied against them. Although the colonists paid taxes to a government nearly 3,000 miles away, they did not have representatives in Parliament. Soon, the battle cry across the thirteen colonies became “no taxation without representation.”
Declaring independence from the most powerful nation in the world was no trivial pursuit for early Americans. In standing for their vision of a better life and publicly proclaiming their independence, the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration were proudly committing treason. As British subjects, they went to war with their own government. For signing the Declaration, some men were captured by the British and tortured, others had their homes and businesses burned and many died fighting in the Revolutionary War. We cannot understate the bravery and sacrifice of these visionaries.
Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, many more patriots have come forward to defend our democracy. From the American Revolution, to our Greatest Generation during World War II, to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our liberties. More Americans have served our nation at home as teachers, police and fire fighters, church and community volunteers. Our nation’s greatest strength has always been the character of our citizens.
Let us remember the sacrifice made by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As Americans, we live in the most free nation on the planet as a result of their sacrifice. With each new generation of Americans we must renew our commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Happy Fourth of July!