Soon, there will be fireworks. There will be “oohs” and “ahhs.” Hopefully, there will also be gratitude, rising from citizens well aware of the gifts our forebears have laid at our feet.
One such gift is the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, revised by fellow delegates and approved on July 4, 1776, articulating the great ideas and principles upon which our nation was founded. This document dealt with the very nature of humanity, our created dignity, our essential equality and the ultimate origin of our basic rights–all ideas deeply rooted in our faith.
Soon, we will celebrate our nation’s independence, reclaiming the self-evident truths “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In 1926, when this document and our nation were just 150 years young, an interesting speech was heard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our freedom. It was written and delivered by a smart yet humble man who himself was born on July 4, 1872; a real Yankee Doodle Dandy, as they called him, “born on the fourth of July.” Did I say smart? Just for fun, he once translated, Dante’s Inferno from the Medieval Latin into English (one of seven languages he knew). For work, however, he was the 30th President of the United States of America. Some called him “Silent Cal” but when it came time to celebrating our independence, Cal could not be silent!
Calvin Coolidge (1872 –1933) knew that the great ideas and principles in our Declaration did not just appear out of the blue. He knew about the influence of some French and English philosophers on our Founders, but he was well-read enough to also recognize the rich home-grown influences on them, including that of several generations of colonial preachers.
Coolidge understood the spiritual roots underneath the Declaration of Independence. In his Philadelphia speech celebrating America’s 150th birthday, he cited the preaching of Rev. Thomas Hooker and Rev. John Wise as formidable forces shaping the values of our founding generation. The deep convictions we held regarding the divine origin of our rights and liberties, and the essential value of the people’s consent, and the accountability we all share before God and each other, came primarily from our country’s early preachers.
In his 1926 national birthday speech, Coolidge said of our colonial clergy:
- “They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.”
No wonder our Declaration of Independence includes four references to God; as our Creator (making us equal and endowing us with rights), Lawmaker (author of “the Laws of Nature”), “Supreme Judge,” and as Protector (“Divine Providence” being the object of our “firm reliance”).
To prepare yourself for a joyful and more informed celebration this coming Independence Day, let’s listen to Coolidge:
“Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man–these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.” ~ Calvin Coolidge, 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1926.
Why not celebrate the Fourth of July by reading that Declaration to your family before the sun goes down and the fireworks go up? Meanwhile, listen to “Silen Cal” one more time:
“We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen… If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself.” ~ Calvin Coolidge, Vice Presidential address at Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts, June 19, 1923.