It was an improbable event, a ragtag band of colonists declaring themselves independent - and making good on their convictions.
Viewed through the lens of time, history begins to seem inevitable. When we note the independence, liberty, and prosperity of our great land, we can imagine it being no other way. But 235 years ago, things weren't so clear.
The fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence could scarcely have envisioned the country they helped to create. When the time came to adopt the Declaration, Ben Franklin is alleged to have responded to John Hancock's plea for unity with the quip, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." The line may be apocryphal; the risk the signatories took was not.
Had the colonists lost the war, these fifty-six men could have been hanged as traitors. And even in victory, their decision came at great cost to themselves and their countrymen. Before hostilities had ended, roughly 50,000 Americans would die, and in the darker days of the war, those who helped the war move from isolated skirmishes to an all-out conflict against the world's greatest military power must have lamented the great cost at which liberty is purchased.
When those fifty-six men mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, these weren't just words on a page. Dissolving the "political bands" connecting the colonies with England was no rash or easy decision. It was a momentous resolution, founded upon a conviction that rings through the ages: rights are worth securing, and freedom is worth fighting for. To live free - even to die free - is better than the safety of subjugation.
They pledged their lives, and the lives of their countrymen, to this great cause: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To all those fight for freedom, to all those committed to its defense, and to all those who enjoy the blessings of liberty: Happy Independence Day!