Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Themes of Declaration of Independence Echo through History

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Themes of Declaration of Independence Echo through History

Article excerpt


The Declaration of Independence was a political act of enormous risk and great consequence. It was a searing statement of grievances that demonstrated the 56 signers' intent to separate themselves and their states from the governance of Great Britain and its tyrannical king. It set a timetable for independence: right away.

On this holiday weekend, most thoughts about the significance of the declaration will focus on those immediate impacts and the document's role in the formation of the United States of America.

Yet it's worth taking time to recognize, or to remember, that the Declaration of Independence is more than a historic, one-time protestation.

So, here are themes about the Declaration I find compelling:

[broken bar] There is a gross contradiction between its exquisite articulation of self-evident truths and the beliefs and practices of the signers.

It is not news that Thomas Jefferson, who is credited with drafting the Declaration, denied his slaves liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- and was not alone among the members of the Continental Congress. We know, too, that the Declaration's assertion that all men are created equal was understood by its literal limit; there was no equality for women at the time, and it was not envisioned.

It is debatable whether those prejudices tarnish the image of the founders. But the beliefs they held at the time do not diminish the vision they expressed in the Declaration. I find the signers' expressed commitments to "unalienable rights" all the more impressive because, given the norms of their day, the founders could not fathom a time when blacks and women would be entitled to equal treatment under the law (even if they don't always receive it today). In other words, they had a grand vision without being able to see how it might materialize.

[broken bar] The last paragraph is such a demonstration of unity that it should be on every American's Facebook feed: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." (It's one thing to pledge allegiance to a flag, but another to pledge to each other.)

[broken bar] The American people have revered the Declaration of Independence more than any other historic writing -- with the exception of the Bible. As a result, the July 4, 1776, signing has played an unparalleled role in shaping and reshaping American beliefs and principles. …

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