Vail Daily editorial: 240 and counting
Back in 1776, news was slowly spreading from Philadelphia that the Continental Congress had voted for independence from the British Empire.
The move for independence had built throughout several years, and beyond its first couple of paragraphs, the Declaration of Independence laid out a series of particular complaints against King George III and his government, from taxation with no representation to barring immigration into the colonies.
While the representatives’ vote was unanimous, the decision to separate — or at least make the attempt — had many opponents in the colonies. And the coming war would be a test of resolve for both the colonists and the empire. Patience grew thin on both sides during the next five years. Until George Washington’s victory at Yorktown in 1781, rebel forces suffered more defeats than victories in battle, and most of the declaration’s signers paid with their fortunes, their lives or both in the drive to create a new country.
Looking around at what our nation has become in the past 240 years, the difficult birth of this country is too often overlooked. But it was a vitally important event in the world’s history.
For the first time, a nation, even a fledgling one, had pledged to the world that the rights of free people come not from rulers, but from their creator. Yes, a lot of people were left out of that first declaration, but subsequent generations — and a convulsive civil war less than a century later — expanded the view of free people from property-owning men to virtually all citizens.
No one had ever done that before, and the American revolution sparked others revolts during the next couple of centuries. Some were more successful than others — too often, revolts ended merely with new despots in place of the old.
No matter what you think of our nation’s politics today — “yuck” would be an apt descriptor — the example set by the Declaration of Independence and all that followed remains a model of people pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor toward something greater than themselves. It’s a lesson that should resonate today, as we enjoy the fruits of the deep thinking and great sacrifice that brought our country to its current place among the nations of the world.