It was a very awkward time to be an American colonist. Choosing between your king and country was not something taken lightly. Prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776 there were at least 99 other declarations from states, towns, and associations across the colonies. The document we celebrate is the culmination of those declarations combined with the reality the British Crown was sending troops to squash a rebellion. Pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor those supporting the forming of the United States from 13 colonies were knowingly placing their names on a document that would insure they would be known as traitors to the crown.
Over the next 50 years many changes would take shape, driven by the passion to self-govern in a land of liberty and freedom from oppressive and an uncaring centralized government. As the nation prepared to mark a half century since declaring independence there were two central figures still living. Former U.S. President John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were invited to attend the festivities. Neither would make it to the ceremonies. Passing first was Thomas Jefferson, 82. Five hours later, unaware Jefferson had passed, John Adams dies believing Jefferson still survived, he was 90.
Jefferson is credited with writing the Declaration of Independence. He did pen the draft, though there were changes from his original in the final, approved declaration. He was able to take the declarations of states, towns, and associations and craft them into a document fitting for a new country formed from 13 colonies that became 13 nations, or states, readying for a fight for freedom from the abuses of their king. His life would be consumed by the founding and forming of this new country.
Adams was a strong voice for independence having experienced the devastation British troops were having on Boston and the Massachusetts colony where he lived. He was also a strong proponent for separating powers in governing. Rejected and scoffed by many in 1776, Adams insured this doctrine of separation was included in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, the first constitution to implement a separation that would eventually form one of the keystones of the U.S. Constitution. His life, also, was consumed by the founding and forming of this new country.
Both were key players in declaring independence. Both signed their names, taking the pledge they each honored throughout their lives. As the nation grew toward maturity both voices would fall silent on July 4th, 1826. Yet their voices are not truly silent. Their passions, weaknesses, strengths, and visions can still be studied and embraced by a country desperately in need of a renewed commitment to the federalist principles that began to take shape in 1776.
Today millions will gather for the 240th anniversary. How many gathering today would dare to sign the document, dare to pledge all we had for liberty and the prosperity it can offer for a citizenry focused on self-governing over centralized control?