As our Founders voted on a declaration in early July, 1776, was it a declaration of independence or a declaration of dependence?
Of course, every school child would know (or would they in 21st century schools?) that it was a declaration of independence from the governing authority of Great Britain. If not, why do we call it the Declaration of Independence?
In fact, at the top of the document it simply states:
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
So “Declaration” of what? Independence or Dependence?
It does not take long to confirm our Founders were declaring a form of independence. The preamble talks of dissolving political bands, of the “separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” and of the fact that such a people about to do so “should declare the causes which impel them to the separation” (emphasis added).
“Dissolve,” “separate,” and “separation” leave little doubt that change was in order, including an independence from something, in this case an independence from the government of Great Britain.
So, rest assured, I will not dispute that it was a declaration of independence, but would significantly add that in declaring that independence, our Founders likewise openly, purposefully, and determinedly declared a dependence, one deeply rooted in the character of the Founders and the character of the colonists as a whole, soon to become citizens of that new nation.
A dependence which we shun today only at our own peril.
On what – or perhaps better stated, on whom – did they declare their dependence?
In mutually pledging “to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” the Founders declared “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” For those Founders who knew their commitment to the Declaration was an act of treason against Britain, such words were not flippantly made.
In the preamble, as referenced before, the Founders appealed to the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God for the authority to declare independence from Great Britain, then unequivocally identified our unalienable rights as having been “endowed by their Creator.” Additionally, in concluding, they appealed “to the Supreme Judge of the world” in publishing this declaration of freedom.
As a student of history, I would be remiss to pretend there were no secular influences upon our Founding Fathers in declaring independence. But for those of you who think I may have overstated the trust in God embodied by our Founders, I would commend for your consideration a scholarly work by Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding.
Yes, two wings.
In light of the wing of common sense, Novak acknowledges that “without the Enlightenment, America would not have assumed the beneficent shape it did.” But his in-depth research, spanning decades, also uncovered that the humble faith of our Founders represented a second wing without which the American eagle could not fly. Novak confidently concluded that the Founders’ faith in “the God of Israel championed by the nations’ first Protestants – the God Who prefers the humble and weak things of this world…Who brings down the mighty and lifts up the poor; and Who has done so all throughout history and will do so till the end of time” was “an ‘indispensable’ part of their story.”
As we approach July 4th, we in America today would do wisely to celebrate not just our independence from Great Britain, but reassert our firm reliance, our dependence upon the God who enabled us to gain that independence and the liberty from governmental overreach and tyranny to which our Founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
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