Twelve score and eight years ago, a group of individuals representing 13 colonies congregated in Philadelphia to vote on a radical idea. The vote passed and they made a major announcement in writing. They declared their independence from the British Empire, seeking a new and untested form of self-government. These 13 colonies were to unite as a nation. The idea of America was born. 

A document declaring this was written by hand. The author was Thomas Jefferson. He used a quill pen and jars of ink. Jefferson was just 33 years old when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. He had multiple drafts that he tossed before submitting for review. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin pitched in to add to and edit the revolutionary document. Franklin was 70 years old when he signed the paper. The declaration spoke for the masses. It was initially called “an expression of the American mind.”

Independence Day should have been July 2, 1776. That was the day that the Second Continental Congress actually voted and approved the decision. The final draft of the declaration came 2 days later. It took Thomas Jefferson 17 days to write it. There were 86 edits. It should come as no surprise; Jefferson didn’t like the edits. 

The Second Continental Congress adopted it that day, but the representatives did not sign it until a month later. There was no document delivery mechanism back then. There clearly was no FedEx or Docusign. The Declaration of Independence remained in Philadelphia until each of the 56 delegates could eventually travel there by horse. It took 6 months for all the signatures to be compiled.

The signed parchment copy resides today in Washington. It rests at the National Archives in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, alongside the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These are effectively America’s birth certificates. 

The Congressional delegates wanted to quickly spread the word. Copies of the declaration were made by a Philadelphia printer named John Dunlap. He and his team went to work fast. On July 5th, Dunlap’s copies were dispatched by horseback across the 13 colonies to newspapers, local officials, and the commanders of the Continental troops. This was lightning-fast distribution for those days. These rare documents are referred to as the “Dunlap Broadsides.” Only 26 copies are known survivors of that first printing. 

The University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, owns 2 copies of Dunlap’s broadsides. It’s believed that one of them belonged to George Washington. According to David Whitesell, Virginia curator of special collections. “Its provenance can be traced back to the early 19th century, when it was in Tobias Lear’s possession. Lear, who was Washington’s personal secretary late in life, is known to have taken a number of documents, possibly including this broadside, from Washington’s papers shortly after Washington’s death in 1799.”

And how about this: In 1989, a Philadelphia man found an original Dunlap Broadside hidden in the back of a picture frame he bought at a flea market for just $4. Now that’s a treasure. 

56 men signed the Declaration of Independence. 39 signed the United States Constitution 11 years later. There were 6 individuals that signed both. They were Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, George Read, James Wilson, Robert Morris, and George Clymer.

Keep in mind, this was extremely risky behavior. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew what they were doing might cost them their lives. Benjamin Rush, representative of Pennsylvania, wrote their action “was believed by many at the time to be our own death warrants.” The British did target the Founding Fathers, destroying and looting many of their homes. There’s a story that John Hart of New Jersey, when he came out of hiding and returned home, never found all of his children. They sacrificed everything for a higher cause.

George Washington received the document in New York City and read it aloud in front of a public audience at City Hall. He was then Commander of the Continental Forces. A raucous crowd cheered the inspiring words.  Later that day, a statue of King George was torn down. The statue was subsequently melted down and shaped into over 42,000 musket balls for the American army to use in the Revolutionary War.

I read the Declaration of Independence every year in July. It’s good reading. This is the most popular and purposeful passage:

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.

Our Founding Fathers were serious people. They gave birth to a new nation. They devised a revolutionary idea for democratic rule and a well-thought-out Constitution to implement and follow. There’s no question they argued amongst themselves. The Founding Fathers didn’t always agree. But they came together and compromised, when necessary, for the good of the people and the promise of the future. They were wise in their ways. 

2024 is a year of elections. Over half the world’s population will have headed to the ballot box by year’s end. There’s a theme: Dissatisfaction. The people of Earth are speaking. They’re not happy with the status quo. 

Nearly three centuries after the American colonists expressed outrage with England, the British people aren’t pleased with their government either. Prime Minister Sunak is expected to suffer a humiliating defeat this week, with a current favorable rating of just 18%. Dissatisfaction has been high in the United Kingdom. It’s been the case for a while. The Brexit vote was back in 2016. It’s been downhill ever since. There’s been a revolving door at Downing Street. Trade has suffered too. Brexit has cost the UK Economy £100 Billion per year in lost output. Brexit has led to Bregret for many Brits. 

France was our strategic ally in the Revolutionary War. Back then, the French were a global empire. They were also England’s greatest rival. Without assistance from Paris, America might not have achieved its independence from the British. Like the UK, France is no longer a global empire. 

The European nation is going through some serious challenges; Politically, economically, and socially. President Macron called for snap elections after getting trounced in Parliamentary elections a month ago. The gamble backfired. His party received just 22% of the round 1 tally, indicating a vote of no confidence. The Far Right National Rally party won 33%. The left-leaning New Popular Front coalition received 29% of the vote. The extremes on both sides out voted the incumbent. Round 2 is this weekend. And don’t forget: Paris is hosting the Olympics later this month. The world will be watching. 

The issues are quite similar throughout the west. Immigration, the rising cost of living, excessive debt and the shrinking opportunity for a better life have the French and British people frustrated. That’s clearly the case in the United States. There’s a loud and growing sense that political establishment is out of touch with its citizenry. People around the globe don’t feel like their governments of the people are delivering for the people. 

Back to America:

Washington has been unpopular for a while now. The approval rating for Congress has fallen to 13%. It’s one thing all Americans seem to agree with. Partisan bickering has complicated even the basics of governing. We have serious issues. It requires serious people to solve them. Our nation is so divided. It’s so important to understand why and how we united. 

Four decades ago, President Reagan spoke to the graduating class of Notre Dame. He had this to say to the class of 1981:

“This Nation was born when a band of men, the Founding Fathers, a group so unique we’ve never seen their like since, rose to such selfless heights. Lawyers, tradesmen, merchants, farmers – fifty-six men achieved security and standing in life but valued freedom more. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Sixteen of them gave their lives. Most gave their fortunes. All preserved their sacred honor.”

That commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has driven our great nation for 248 years. The fact is, happiness is never guaranteed. But ensuring that the pursuit is permanently possible sure does increase the probability of achievement. In the end, that’s everything. We mustn’t ever forget that.

The bold and novel ideas our Founding Fathers devised still apply. We’re not perfect; Far from it. Despite all the challenges we face, it’s merely opportunity to become more perfect. That’s how I see things.

Happy Birthday America. 

I hope you all have an enjoyable Independence Day. 


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