I’m going to take a different approach for this holiday week. With Independence Day on Thursday, my fellow Americans and I have many things to celebrate. However, traditions have been replaced by too much pomp and circumstance and the reasons for the holiday are lost.
The day Americans celebrate on the Fourth of July is the day we declared our Independence from Great Britain. It was not the date of the first battle; that was more than a year before in Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775). The Declaration of Independence was written with the intention of securing American rights and independence after many years of harsh treatment and heavy taxation by the British. It was significantly influenced by the Magna Carta and other oft forgotten groundbreaking documents: the 1689 English Declaration of Rights, the preamble of the Constitution of Virginia, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Additionally, ideas of leading philosophers were incorporated, most noticeably those of John Locke who strongly advocated all were equal, independent, and were granted god-given rights to “Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions,” ideas inspired by the Magna Carta. These ideas were later returned to when the United States Constitution was written (along with Montesquieu‘s separation of powers, and contract theory as proposed by Thomas Hobbes and furthered by Locke). These are the ideas we should be celebrating on Thursday, not the battles. If the ideas had not come first, what would have inspired the battles?
The United States of American was the first nation built from the ground up on philosophical ideals. In every country formed previously, the ideals followed after the end of the era of absolute monarchies. Even though there were victories in the years before totalitarian governments declined, namely the Magna Carta and 1689 English Declaration of Rights, the people did not have the rights they have had in the last couple hundred years. The county was built from ideas; it grew out of ideas; ideas are why we are here! Let us not remember the holiday by only rockets and red glare, but also the ideas! Without them, we might not be living the life we are nor would other nations have begun to accept them.
Consider reading the text of America’s two most important documents this week. Full text of both is available online, courtesy of the government. Here are the links: Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
Also, enjoy the watching three short videos, which I am linking to below, which demonstrate the apex formed when history, archival science, and library science collide. All are courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and incorporate the history of the document while showing parts of the restoration processes.
Video 1: Declaration of Independence: Discusses NARA’s full restoration of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of its custom enclosure.
Video 2: Magna Carta Conservation Treatment: Illustrates the conservation techniques used on the Magna Carta, including removing old repairs, filling areas of loss with conservation paper, and rehumidifying and flattening the document and the first phase of its re-encasement and public display. This video is a personal favorite of mine!
Video 3: Magna Carta Encasement: Demonstrates the high-tech encasement created to house the fully restored Magna Carta.
I would have loved to embed these videos within the post, but that feature is a paid upgrade and I don’t have the money for that! Sorry.
To my American readers, Happy Independence Day! To international readers, I hope you learned something new and understand the value of the idea on which this nation was built.
Does anyone have questions? In another situation, I could write a book on this!
- With the exception of the Constitution of Virginia, all mentioned documents link to the full text.
- All philosopher’s mentioned are linked to tier biography in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut drafted the Declaration with Jefferson serving as the primary writer.
- Quote citation for paragraph 2: Locke, John (1690). Second Treatise of Government (10th ed.). Project Gutenberg.