Besides guzzling beer, shooing flies off the fried chicken and potato salad, and watching fireworks at the end of the day after we've become sufficiently bleary-eyed and sunburned, the Fourth of July might also be dedicated to a 15 minute read of the document which represents what this day is all about. The Declaration of Independence is just that: a declaration of independence from the rule of the British Empire. It is not a body of laws. It is not a part of the Constitution. See below.*
Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America—Independence Day—is celebrated on the Fourth of July, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress. But most historians have concluded that it wasn't signed until a month later, on August 2, 1776.
But John Adams wrote in an official government document, the Treaty of Tripoli, "The United States is not a Christian nation" and "...the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."
Thomas Jefferson, the primary writer, was a Deist, as were many of the other Founding Fathers. This explains the use of "nature" and "nature's God" in the following exerpt. The reference has nothing to do with a Christian God, the Bible or the Ten Commandments. The third president once said, "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises."
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.
Probably the most memorized - and forgotten - passage is the beginning of the next paragraph:
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. . . .
The bulk of the rest of the document is a list of grievances against the King of Great Britain. There is no further mention of God in any form.
A little over one hundred years later, the first of over 12 million immigrants began arriving at Ellis Island. See if you recognize one of yours in the projected images from this Grammy-nominated film.
John F. Kennedy reading the Declaration of Independence on a radio show in 1957.
I hope everyone has a happy Fourth filled with good food, songs and fireworks - but take time to read the Declaration of Independence and to think about it.
*An astonishing 26 percent of Americans don't know that America declared independence from Great Britain. In the South, 32 percent either don't know or are unsure. Read more at Progressive Eruptions.