2020: the year the world was turned on its head.
That may seem like a slight exaggeration to some of you, but in all honestly, NOTHING about this year has been the same as previous years. Except for the fact that holidays are still taking place and time is still ever in motion. But our 2020 plans, “normal” routines, and understanding of the world have all been significantly uprooted.
I’ve now celebrated Easter, my 27th birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my sister’s 30th birthday, and my dad’s 60th birthday all in quarantine, all while being socially distant. This is not normal. And it’s okay to admit that and sit in those feelings of loss and pining for something more. And today, as we celebrate our nation’s day of Independence, I want to bring a fresh perspective to this holiday.
The History of American Independence
The roots of our country’s independence date back to 1776. The colonists had reached their tipping point in being associated and under the rule of Great Britain, hence why the Revolutionary War happened. On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from Great Britain. Two days later, 56 delegates from the original 13 colonies drafted what is today known as the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson is believed to have drafted the majority of the document with the help of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. Our country from then on would forever be known as the United States of America.
But if you read through the Declaration of the Independence, it’s not without flaw…
“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.”The Declaration of Independence
If you want to read the whole document (which I highly suggest you doing), here is a link to the National Archives transcript. Or you could always just steal it like Nicholas Cage.
The purpose of the Declaration of Independence was an assertion of rights. Our founding fathers were declaring their freedom from the “oppressor,” which was Great Britain. But they did not in fact mean that ALL men are created equal when they drafted this. They meant that all white men were created equal. Women, indigenous groups, and slaves were not included in this statement.
The history that we learn in school surrounding this historic document lacks a deeper understanding of the writers’ original intent. Knowing now that the signers excluded women, slaves, and indigenous people from the same rights and liberties that white men were endowed, we can begin to understand our country’s history of brokenness. We can see with fresh eyes that our founding government was built on the hidden ideals of selective inclusivity. Our government has been at odds with racism and equality since it’s inception. And in many ways, it’s still functioning like it’s 1776. For centuries, we (the white community) have been the oppressor. And we’ve allowed BIPOC to rewrite the broken history of our nation. For too long, the ideals of equality and freedom in America have been false. We’ve stood idly as Black Americans war to make them true. But now it’s OUR turn to take a stand, it’s OUR turn to defend the rights of all our country’s citizens.
The Legacy of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was a radical founding father. He questioned many societal norms, including the power of the British state, the power of the church, the power of primogeniture, and the morality of slavery. Early on, he was the driving force for change in our nation, however he is not without fault. He, like many of the founding fathers, owned and operated his home at Monticello by the blood, sweat, and tears of slaves. He may have questioned the slavery system, but he utilized it for his own personal gain.
Before Jefferson died, he wrote a letter to Roger Weightman declining an offer to a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson stated that “all eyes are open, or opening, to the rights of man.” And he believed that the universal language of the Declaration would one day apply “to the world.” So although the original intent of the Declaration may not been total equality, it has become the battlecry for those on the frontlines of this war. The bold statements of equality and endowed rights found in the Declaration of Independence have been used by BIPOC, women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community for decades in their fight for equality. His words have become the momentum for racial, social, sexual, and spiritual equality in our modern world.
Jefferson may have made some poor decisions in his lifetime, but his words of hope and universal equality will forever be a part of our nation’s history. It’s up to us now to rewrite the wrongs of the past.
How We Celebrate Today
The Fourth of July did not become a recognized federal holiday until 1941, despite the fact that it was widely celebrated since it’s inception. The first Fourth of July fireworks display was organized in Philadelphia, PA in 1777, just one year after the historic signing. Unfortunately, the political significance of this holiday has dwindled over the past century becoming a day centered around barbecues, drinking, and fireworks.
However, we can choose to focus on the political and historical significance of this day with intention. We can share our nation’s history with our family and friends and choose to forge a different path towards equality than our founding fathers. I’m not proposing we get rid of the sparklers, Red, White, & Blue outfits, or excessive amounts of American flags, but I am suggesting that we not settle for the watered-down version of our country’s history.
We can celebrate today in recognition of our past and in hope of our future. We can choose to focus on the efforts of change that are taking place right here and now and honor those who are forging paths of equality. Our founding fathers made mistakes and so have we, none of us are without flaw. But recognizing our wrongs and consciously seeking to do what’s right, that’s when true change happens. And it starts in our homes and local communities! When we understand our brokenness, it ignites the fire within us for change.
May we celebrate this Fourth of July with reverence, heaviness, and hope that our country will strive to do better and be better. Our black brothers and sisters are depending on us. Have a blessed and safe Fourth!