As we celebrate the 245th anniversary of this great Republic, it’s important to remember the reason July 4th is called Independence Day.
On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from Great Britain’s monarchic ruler, King George. Two days later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. It was a stunning and dangerously bold move for the colonists to assert their freedom from the British Empire, the most powerful country in the world at that time.
However, from its beginning, the newly formed United States of America was emboldened by its ideals, not the least of which was religious liberty. That eloquently written Declaration set forth principles that were firmly grounded in faith. Numerous references to a higher power are found in the writings of the Founders.
This famous passage makes it clear that their faith gave them the courage of their convictions: “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.” Those words became the aspirations our country would be built around.
Jefferson, who abhorred the tyranny being imposed upon the colonies, wrote of his sad, but necessary, duty to rebel. “There is not in the British Empire a man who more cordially desires a union with Great Britain than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the Parliament proposes. And in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.”
Writing in July 1776, referring to the momentous move by the colonists, John Adams, who would become our second president, wrote: “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
Various religions have influenced the course of history for thousands of years. Belief in something outside our mortal existence has been a necessary component in constructing a civilization out of a primitive landscape. Similarly, it was faith in God, instilled into the heart and soul of the early settlers, which gave them purpose and united them for the grueling challenges they faced. The power of prayer is more than a cliché, it’s a spiritual transaction with one’s creator that provides hope when earthly solutions don’t seem possible.
As our country grew toward its Manifest Destiny, the foundation of religious principles grew with it. In 1954, during the Cold War era, Americans wanted to distinguish the United States from the state atheism promoted by Marxist countries. Therefore, on Flag Day of that year, Congress added the words “under God” after “one nation.”
Seven years later, in one of the greatest inaugural addresses of the 20thCentury, President John F. Kennedy said: “We observe today, not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom… for I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago. Those revolutionary beliefs for which they fought are still at issue around the globe; the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”
President Ronald Reagan said: “Without God there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy cannot and will not long endure. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, we will be a nation gone under.”
As we gather with family and friends to celebrate the many rewards of living in this freest of all nations, let us not forget to thank those who risked everything, including their lives, to provide us with this bountiful lifestyle, which we so often take for granted. What we inherited, as a birthright, was made possible by some of the toughest, bravest, and most visionary people in history.
Yet, as Benjamin Franklin said when asked what type of government had been formed: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Perhaps, if we hold on to the values of our religious heritage, Franklin’s advice will keep us from losing what our forefathers achieved for us.
Bob Weir is a former NYPD officer, longtime Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.