On July 4, 1776, a group of Americans approved a document declaring the United States of America free from English rule. This document was the Declaration of Independence, and we celebrate today this courageous action.
The Declaration of Independence is the nation’s birth certificate. Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration, outlined its purpose:
“When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. 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 originally of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”
John Adams, in informing his wife of the events preceding the passage of the Declaration, stated:
“I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain the Declaration and support and defend thse states. Yet through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory — I can see that the end is more than worth all the means and that prosperity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”
Across the generations, many others have heralded the importance of the Declaration. For example, Civil war hero General Ulysses S. Grant saw it as one of the many evidences of God’s guidance:
“In all these marked stages of national progress, from the Declaration of Independence to the recent amendments of the Constitution, it is impossible not to perceive a providential aeries and succession of events.”
President Ronald Reagan’s words about the Declaration are as stirring today as they were originally delivered in his Radio Address to the Nation on July 3, 1982.
“My fellow Americans, 206 years ago, one of history’s greatest adventures began when a small band of patriots in Philadelphia resolved to stake their all — their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor — for freedom and independence. On that distant day, America was born. Our country has been an inspiration for free men and women around the world ever since.
The Scriptures tell us that ‘Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ And for more than two centuries now, our blessed land has grown and prospered, guided by a deep faith in the Almighty and an unquenchable thirst for freedom. As George Washington once wrote to another of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, ‘Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.’
Thanks to the faith and fortitude of our ancestors, freedom has flowered on our shores and has brought a legacy of liberty and opportunity to wave after wave of immigrants from every quarter of the globe. In war and peace, in good times and bad, each generation of Americans has passed on the torch of freedom.
Some of our ancestors face trials that we will never know — the snows of Valley Forge; the crucible of a bitter, bloody civil war, and the incredible hardships endured in training a savage wilderness. But the spirit of determination and love of country that saw them through to victory still beats in American hearts today.
We, too, face strong challenges to our free, abundant way of life. America is at peace, but we live in a troubled world. American abundance is still the marvel of mankind, but we still face serious economic and social problems.
Far more important, though, is the fact that, as a free people, we have both the means and the vision needed to solve our problems peacefully, fairly, and democratically. Because we are a free people, we can work together voluntarily in a way no system based on tyranny ever will. That always has been and always will be America’s ultimate strength. In the words of Dwight Eisenhower, ‘Free men do not lose their patience, their courage, their faith because the obstacles are mountainous, the path uncharted. Given understanding, they invariably rise to the challenge.’
So, on this special day, the birthday of our nation, in the midst of all the joyous celebrations, let us take a moment to remember the debt of thanks we owe to those who came before us, to the same God who guides us all, and to the spirit of faith and patriotism which still makes America ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.”