Everyone knows the Fourth of July is a chance to go on that much-needed summer vacation. It’s an opportunity to get together with family and enjoy backyard barbecue. It’s a time for parades and picnics, fireworks, and fun. It’s a way to feel and express pride in our country.
But we think it’s more than just that.
Recently, while thinking about Independence Day, we came across some words by Abraham Lincoln that we had never seen before. To us, they perfectly express why the Fourth of July is so important. Why it’s more than just a birthday party.
The year was 1861. While on his way to the Capitol to be inaugurated as president of the United States, Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall.
As you know, Independence Hall is one of the most important buildings in America. And for good reason! It was where the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. It was the home of the Liberty Bell, which was dramatically hidden from British soldiers during the Revolutionary War so that it would not be melted down. It was where George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and others crafted the Constitution.
So, stopping there was not a mere diversion for Lincoln. It was a pilgrimage. A way to pay homage to the document that inspired him to civic service.
While touring the building, a number of people gathered to catch sight of their new president. Before long, they began calling for him to speak. Having nothing prepared ahead of time, Lincoln instead spoke from the heart. This is what he said:
I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.
You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of our country. I can say in return that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn – so far as I am able to draw them – from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall.
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that independence.
I have often inquired of myself, “What great principle or idea was it that kept this [nation] so long together?” It was not the mere matter of separation of the Colonies from the motherland. It was that sentiment in the Declaration which gave liberty. Not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight should be lifted from the shoulders of all men.
This was the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.
My friends, this is wholly an unexpected speech, and I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet. But I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by…and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.
When we read these words, it really got us thinking not just about this upcoming day of independence but the document behind it. Or, as Lincoln might have said, the principle behind it.
Everyone is familiar with the words of the Declaration. That all are created equal. That we are all endowed with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. But, as Lincoln said, these words were not just to separate the colonies from Britain. They were not a goodbye letter; not a “thanks, I quit” letter.
They are the basis for all liberty in our country. They are what saved our country during a time of civil war. They are, as Lincoln said, the principles that have kept our nation so long together.
The more we think about it the more we think the Fourth of July isn’t just for celebrating that independence happened. It’s our chance to affirm the principles of the Declaration. To recommit to them. To make them not just words in a dusty historical document, but an ongoing promise. To ensure they continue to be the basis for all liberty. To pledge in support of them our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. Just as the Founders did.
The Fourth is for renewing the Declaration of Independence. Each and every year, for each and every one of us.
We are so grateful for this country we live in. We are grateful for the Declaration, and for the principles and sentiments it embodies. And we are grateful for this holiday. So, on behalf of everyone here at Fidelis, we wish you and your family a wonderful Independence Day!