Today, the United States of America celebrates its birthday. It is a commemoration of the day in 1776 when representatives of the 13 British colonies signed the Declaration of Independence, a separation from Great Britain.
There were many complex reasons for this split—the Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson called them “a long train of abuses and usurpations.” But it all boiled down to a few salient points. Much of it had to do with what the colonists perceived as abuses by the British Government that went back many years.
For example, the colonists greatly resented British laws that forbade any movement or settlement West of the Allegheny mountains, and the imposition of taxes that were meant to replenish the British treasury depleted by years of fighting. And most of all, they were angry that they had no say in the hundreds of laws that were passed by the government in distant London. Indeed, in the run-up to the Revolutionary War, the oft-repeated phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny” well summarized the colonists’ grievances.
In writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson proposed that “by the authority of the people”, an independent United States would become a nation on an equal footing with European nations that governed themselves, formed alliances with foreign nations and engaged freely in commerce.
And then Jefferson went a step further and declared that “all men are created equal”, and as such, enjoyed a number of unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.Thomas Jefferson stated that it is the job of a government to ensure these rights, and therefore it is important that the government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. This passage is a response to the colonists’ anger over “taxation without representation”, and a direct challenge to the British government.
Today we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the principles it defines. The Day marks the beginning of the Revolutionary War, a seven year conflict that ended with the birth of the United States of America, and the promise of a new era of freedom.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”