Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The professor asks: "What does the Declaration of Independence mean to you?"

My official written response to the discussion question...

"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

...Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration was the official resolution put forth by the new American nation declaring that the people would stand for the King's tyranny no more. As stated so eloquently by Thomas Jefferson, the purpose of the resolution was "in order to place before mankind the common sense of the matter in terms so plain and simple as to command their assent."

The main reasons for putting forth the declaration were simple--the American colonies were declaring to the world their grievances against King George and their intent to separate and become a free nation. The war for independence was on, the American army was outclassed and outnumbered by the British and at times support waned, even among the weary troops, who though malnourished, tired, and weary, persevered and kept going. The Declaration was essential because it unified the colonies as one nation with one common cause--freedom. And it was also essential to the troops--it showed them they were really fighting for a cause and that their government and their countrymen were behind them in this fight.

The 56 men who signed the Declaration were prominent men. A look at their biographies shows the signers were of a variety of professions including doctors, lawyers, military officers, legislators, lawmen, assemblymen, judges, surveyors, and bank presidents. These were men who held standing in their community and were well-respected. Signing their name to a traitorous document such as the Declaration of Independence was surely a death sentence should they be captured by the British. And still knowing the risks, they signed it anyway. These men, with all their wealth, fame and prominence and with so much to lose should America lose the war, put their lives on the line to stand up for what they believed in.

Over two hundred years and several generations later, we are still fascinated by it. That these men had the courage to put everything on the line--their status, their families, their very lives--makes me wonder if I could do it too. If I were faced with having to make a choice such as they did which would put everything I hold dear at risk, including my own life, would I have the courage to stand up for my convictions? I'm very opinionated and have strong beliefs about many issues and I often wonder if in the face of adversity, would I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in? I'd like to believe I would. I keep reminding myself that others have done it throughout our history. I believe it's a part of the American spirit and it will never die, no matter how rough things get in this country.

With every passing year of my age, I appreciate freedom so much more than ever before, I feel blessed to live in the most free and prosperous nation in the world, and I am thankful to history for giving us role models like the men who signed the Declaration and the men who fought in the American war for independence, and all those who have come and gone since then who have had the courage to do what they believed was right even when it might have seemed unpopular.

It is a constant reminder to me that if they could do it, I can too.

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