July 4th is always an interesting day for the law enforcement community. It’s a time for ordinance violations, loud bangs that are almost indistinguishable from firearms, drunks at large parties, and all the attendant attitudes that heat and beer bring out. It is a good time to make sure you don’t let your attitude get relaxed by “holiday atmosphere syndrome” and let your guard down.
In times such as these, with all the critical issues rising to the surface this year isn’t it good to reflect on what this is all about anyway? The Founders faced a difficult time in 1776 as they were already a year into a conflict with their King George and few could agree on what form of government would serve the 13 republics that stood little chance against the might of the British Empire.
The idea to officially declare to the world our independence and list our grievances led to a committee of Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams drawing up a “declaration.” While Thomas Jefferson drafted it, it wasn’t as original a document as we like to think. The Virginians had already drafted their own “Bill of Rights” on June 12th and then finished their constitution on June 29th and many of the elements Jefferson would draft into the Declaration of Independence came from his Virginia brethren lead by George Mason. Original or not, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence has become one of the world’s great political documents. Its ideas swept the world and gained support with such intellectual giants as Edmund Burke, the Irish Parliamentarian, and a cadre of French intellectuals who eventually created the Great Terror of the French Revolution.
Today, we often grill, watch baseball, and shoot off fireworks to celebrate our “Independence Day” without much thought. The first July 4th was a different atmosphere, with a group of courageous and brilliant men signing what was their death warrant and embarking on a treasonous revolt against King George. Six more years of war would ensue and most of the signers who survived would die impoverished.
We live today in this remarkable society created by this sacrifice and the sacrifice and struggle of a multitude of others who followed, inspired by the simple document affirmed on that date.
The great Lord Acton, (he’s the “absolute power corrupts absolutely” guy) wrote in his History of Freedom that the Declaration of American Independence was “far transcending the English Model in its simplicity and rigour. It surpassed in force all the speculation of Paris and Geneva, for it had undergone the test of experiment, and its triumph was the most memorable thing that had been seen by men.”
Today, I invite you to read the Declaration. Think of a world as it was in 1776, with disease, hostile Islamic Pirates, the world’s great empires of England, Spain, France, and Russia sitting on our borders, and a great deal of uncertainty about what form of government the States would decide upon...wow, and we think we have it bad. What they did have was faith in the things they enumerated in a relatively simple document that would ignite our freedom and create a nation and inspire untold generations to fight for their own freedom.
We like to say “freedom isn’t free” and can certainly prove it with the names on our Memorial Wall. But preserving freedom isn’t just fighting evil and protecting others — it is making sure our children understand where this freedom springs from and how a simple document crystallized a nation into action and created the greatest experiment in freedom in human history.