Vail Daily column: Reflecting on the Fourth
On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a “resolution of independence” declaring the United States independent from the rule of Great Britain.
After approving the resolution, Congress then turned its attention to a statement explaining its decision, i.e., the Declaration of Independence, a document prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author.
Two days later, on the Fourth of July, the revised wording was approved by Congress and the Declaration of Independence was signed.
As a sidebar, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as presidents of the United States, died on the same day, which happened to be our nation’s 50th anniversary — July 4, 1826.
Additionally, and although not a signer of the Declaration of Independence, another Founding Father and the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, died on the Fourth of July, although some five years after Jefferson and Adams. The only president ever to actually be born on Independence Day was our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge.
The greatest gift
If you were asked what the single most important concept the Founding Fathers bequeathed to us, then what would you say? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are abstractions, but a strong case can be made that the Founders’ greatest gift was our enduring Constitution, arguably the most influential document ever written by man in the Western world.
Nations have been formed by internal rebellions, edicts of powerful governments and invading armies. But the creation of the United States was unquestionably unique and exceptional in world history. Yes, our nation was conceived in revolt, but our government and its institutions were born of thoughtful debate and composed reason.
Our Constitution originated at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 (later referred to the Constitutional Convention). The debates there were filled with passion and contentiousness, as the various factions jousted intellectually and politically. But in the end, rational deliberation, examination and consideration reigned.
The story of our founding is about more than breaking away from the most powerful empire in history. It’s also about integrating the thoughts and ideas of the brightest thinkers of the Enlightenment — i.e., Voltaire, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson — and implementing those ideas into the document we call our Constitution.
It can be argued that the creation of the United States of America could never have occurred at any other time or anywhere else on earth for reasons that require more than a 600-word commentary.
Then and now
The Founders understood they had participated in events that were extraordinary and were fully aware that the founding of the United States of America was a unique event in human history
And what differentiates the Founders from today’s politicians is that while Washington, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, et al, disagreed on issues, they were at the same time men of unassailable honor and took principled action for the betterment of the nation as a whole, despite their disagreements.
Our institutions of government differ from the rest of the world for one simple reason: The Founders gave us a republican form of government dedicated to individual liberty. Let’s hope we can sustain it.
Quote of the Day: “The Constitution only gives the people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.