Musings on Independence Day
Updated: Jan 7
On July 4th, 1776 our Founding Father’s signed the Declaration of Independence to declare the separation of the 13 British colonies that would become the United States of America. However, independence did not simply represent this separation.
Thomas Jefferson said that, “Equal and exact justice to all men … freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person under the protection of habeas corpus [the rule of law]; and trial by juries impartially selected, these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us.” Independence represented protection of those essential rights specified in the First Amendment, which so many of us now take for granted.
The foundation for these rights was laid both by the hundreds of thousands of colonists who braved the dangers of the sea to come to these shores. Many early colonists came to America to gain the freedom to practice their religious beliefs without persecution, groups of Pilgrims, Puritans, Huguenots, Catholics, Jews, Quakers, and Anabaptists.
Colonists brought books with them and printed their own works: sermon, histories, philosophies, theologies, and memoirs. By 1680, bookstores were thriving in New England. A library was established in Charleston in 1700. The first successful newspaper was established in Boston in 1704. The first freedom of the press case occurred in 1735 when the brilliant lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, defended Peter Zenger for printing criticisms against the local government.
In 1692, Cotton Mather argued against the use of spectral evidence, or evidence from dreams or visions, in the Salem Witch Trials. A year later, Robert Pike wrote a persuasive defense of Salisbury’s Mary Bradford, who was also accused of being a witch, arguing that persons must only be convicted based on provable hard evidence, not solely on circumstantial evidence or hearsay.
The men and women, like Etienne and his family, who braved unforeseen trials and persecution for their beliefs in coming to this country to find freedom and independence from a tyrannical government to build a home here, laid many of the foundations from which the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution and Bill of Rights grew.
I am not saying that these were the only influences on the development of this country. Book two in the series, A Country for Castoffs, explores the interactions between the European colonists and the First Nations who were already here. Native peoples and enslaved Africans also played an integral role in the development of this nation, though those stories will be addressed in upcoming books in this series.
This year has seen many protests amidst pandemic fears and civil unrest. The right to protest, demonstrate, and petition our government leaders is another right enshrined for us by our Founding Fathers. 2020 has been a challenging year for many of us for many different reasons. As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, it is important for us to remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, who said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” and also that, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
I wish everyone a wonderful Independence Day!