IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

It may be only July 3, but today is the start of our Independence Day weekend. And, as I point out every year

(yes, yes you do have to listen again, it’s a TRADITION)

it used to be that on every Fourth of July, in every town square and large park and public gathering place in the United States, people would gather, and someone would get up and read out the Declaration of Independence*. It is now two hundred and thirty-nine years since that document was written, but its words still evoke all the courage and dignity and idealism and determination it took to make such a radical and irrevocable break with tradition and heritage and history. So before heading out to your barbecue or picnic or fireworks or whatever celebration you have planned, listen up:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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, –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

[…]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. –And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

 
So that’s the why. Please take a minute or two to remember the people who did, quite literally, put their Lives and Fortunes and sacred Honors on the line–or as John Adams put it in a letter to Abigail, “the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration”–to make this a free and independent country. A safe and happy Independence Day to all!

Oh, still here? Then have a Fanfare for the Common Man (because what could be more appropriate, really):

 

*The above is the abridged version of the Declaration–I left out the charges which the colonists leveled against King and Crown. That they actually leveled charges against King and Crown was, of course, among the most radical acts imaginable at the time. Go read the whole thing at the US Archives.