“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” ~The Preamble of the Declaration of Peace
The Declaration of Independence, ratified on July 4, 1776, laid out the idealistic principles that would shape our nation’s identity. It was a challenge to the ruling establishment and brazen assertion of autonomy. While the Preamble is the most well-known part of the document, the Declaration of Independence is comprised of five parts. The Indictment portion is the largest section consisting of specific examples of injustice delivered by King George III. It is clear, concise, straight to the point, and signed by 56 delegates of the Continental Congress. Yet like many creations made by man, it was created in the shadow of imperfection.
The most obvious contradiction of the Declaration of Independence is its signatories’ demands for liberty and freedom while most were engaged in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, one of history’s most glaring obstructions to justice. Over half of the 56 delegates were slaveholders or owned cargo ships that kept this oppressive triangle intact. Additionally, at the time it was ratified, it was understood the Declaration of Independence did not speak to the experiences of women, Indigenous people, or people of African descent. And these contradictions were recognized by those in power at the time.
Many British political leaders denounced the signers of the Declaration of Independence claims to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” since these same ideals were not granted to the hundreds of people they enslaved. In a rebuttal to the Declaration, others challenged the signatories’ claim that “all men are created equal” while they participated in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. These contradictions pushed Declaration of Independence signer and Revolutionary War veteran, William Whipple, to free Prince Whipple, a man he held in bondage. Whipple recognized the Declaration as a charge to not only King George III, but also the leaders of the 13 colonies. And while most of the Declaration’s authors were not as progressive as William Whipple, they understood this Declaration of Independence would be a standard that over time would grow to be more inclusive. And history has proven this document remains a guidepost to freedom.
It was instrumental in Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a Black woman born into slavery in Massachusetts in 1742, successfully suing the state for her freedom. During the 18th century, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison adopted the “twin rocks” philosophy which paired the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, to denounce slavery. During the Gettysburg Address in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln recognized the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of the nation. In his most famous speech during the 20th century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the Preamble as justification for the demands of the civil rights movement and poor people’s campaign. The Declaration of Independence has been a rallying cry for justice and the current state of our nation demands it remain as such.
Independence Day 2018 is as much about cookouts and family vacations as it is about the realization of the American ideal. The Declaration of Independence is a living document constructed by flawed men, at a time when injustice was the law of the land. Yet for over 200 years, it has served as a symbol of hope and confirmation that freedom is our birthright. “With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence” and dedication to justice, true independence will be realized. And like those who came before us, it is our duty to hold each other to the gold standard set by the Declaration of Independence.