On the last big vacation Vickie and I took before the pandemic, we found ourselves in Savannah, Georgia, over the 4th of July. On Independence Day, we visited the old Colonial Cemetery in the heart of Savannah.
One of the graves bore the name Button Gwinnett. I am sure you never heard of him.
Gwinnett was born in England and came to the new world to find his fortune. He bought a small place in Oglethorpe’s settlement and became a planter and farmer.
He tried his hand at soldiering. He hated it, and it hated him.
Yet, the threat remained.
In the end, he was one of 56 men who signed a document in Philadelphia. It would become a monument to civilization or the gallows upon which Gwinnett and the rest would hang.
The document was the Declaration of Independence, which began the labor pains of a new nation.
We know some of the words…
When in the course of human events…
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…
The men who signed it were doctors, farmers, lawyers, and inventors. Most hoped for more than they could have imagined. They put lives on the line for a nation yet to be formed.
In the intervening 246 years, the Declaration has been cited, distorted, and used as an excuse for violence and intolerance. Yet, it remains, in principle, the best that man has developed to date.
Liberty has turned into license and freedom into an excuse for selfishness. None of that was stated or intended.
Instead, it provided the scaffold for law-abiding, order-loving people to live and prosper. The men might weep if they read the headlines today.
It provides a beacon for hope, a statement of purpose, and an exclamation of possibilities. Its full potential has not come to fruition and perhaps never will.
Amid barbecues, hotdogs, sunburns, and firecrackers, we need to pause and remember what the 56 men who signed to 1300 words did for us.
We celebrate what we have given and must vow to continue until the ideals are achieved.
I think the 56 men would be pleased with that.