Law & Principles

What we celebrate today

July 3, 2014

Trent England

Most nations have an independence day, usually commemorating a military victory or legal action. America’s Independence Day, marking the anniversary of July 4, 1776, is different.

After all, our nation did not win independence militarily until 1781 and legally, by the Treaty of Paris, until 1783. The War for Independence began in April 1775. And while the Continental Congress did assert independence in 1776, they did it on July 2nd, not the 4th.

A better name for today’s holiday would be “Declaration of Independence Day.” What we celebrate is not might, but right. Today we remember the ideas that motivated our fight for independence—ideas that are true whether or not kings or armies or politicians recognize them or not.

The ideas set forth in the Declaration of Independence are the bedrock beneath the Constitution and our constitutional form of representative government.

On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Calvin Coolidge defended these ideas against “Progressives” who claimed they could take America beyond them.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.

President Coolidge put government in its place relative to these ideas, pointing out that “Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments.”

What does this mean? The responsibility is not with politicians, but with “We the People” to preserve and perpetuate these ideas. “The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government.”

Happy Declaration of Independence Day!