It was actually July 2, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was born; it started with a letter to Britain’s King George to explain why the Continental Congress voted to declare America’s independence from the British monarchy. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and it was on July 4 that the final wording of the declaration was agreed upon. One of the most recognizable phrases in the Declaration could have sounded markedly different. The initial wording was “life, liberty and the pursuit of property”, but Jefferson thought better of it and changed it to “pursuit of happiness.”

Only John Hancock, President of the Congress, and its secretary, Charles Thompson, actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. All the others (56 men from 13 colonies) signed later. The American colonies were declared free and independent States from Great Britain and its king. 

The average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 45. The youngest was Thomas Lynch, Jr. (27) of South Carolina. The oldest delegate was Benjamin Franklin (70) of Pennsylvania and its author, Thomas Jefferson, was 33.  One out of eight signers of the Declaration of Independence were educated at Harvard (a total of 7).

The first Independence Day was celebrated on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia, also the day that the Declaration of Independence was first read in public. The official signing ceremony of the document took place on August 2, after all delegate signatures were secured.

Every 4th of July the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped—not actually rung—thirteen times in honor of the original thirteen American colonies. The Bell acquired its crack and its name “The Liberty Bell” in the 1830s and has been “tapped” every since as the signal for bells across the country to start ringing. The thirteen stars on the original American flag were in a circle so all of the Colonies would appear equal.

The Bald Eagle has become the symbol of American independence and freedom, but if it had been up to Benjamin Franklin, we would have a different bird as our nation’s mascot. Franklin was displeased that the bald eagle had been chosen and expressed so in a letter to his daughter in which he wrote, “He is a Bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk”.  Franklin considered the turkey to be a more respectable bird, one which was native to America and possessed courage. Though Franklin preferred his choice, he accepted the decision of the majority with grace.

Only two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence later served as President of the United States— John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Coincidently, these two men so responsible for building our great nation both died on the same day, within hours of each other on July 4, 1826—50 years after they had signed the Declaration of Independence. One other president, James Monroe, died five years later on July 4 in 1831; President Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872.  

In 1870, about 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4 was made an official holiday by Congress. Fireworks have been a major part of the observance from the first year of celebrating Independence Day on July 4, 1777, when around 2.5 million Americans gathered to watch the sky illuminated in celebration. Today Americans light about 200 million pounds of fireworks that are observed by more than 316 million people to celebrate the holiday. 

As citizens we have a lot of freedom in America, but what does having that freedom really mean? Freedom of speech. Freedom to worship. Freedom to do what we believe leads to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet, those freedoms weren’t won in a lottery. They were bought with the blood of soldiers.

Maybe it’s time for all citizens to pause and remember the highest and best freedom—Love.

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers, and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love”  Galatians 5:13 NLT

Having just celebrated the 4th of July, may we now use our freedom to see one another in love. Let’s only speak words to others that encourage and uplift, not ones of slander, profanity, unjust criticism and untruths. Let’s worship the God who gave everything for us. Let’s pause in our daily pursuits to take time to serve others.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” - Philippians 2: 1-4 NIV  (The freedom Paul spoke of was bought with the blood of our Savior.)

It was for freedom that Christ set us free.  Galatians 5:1

As Holly Gerth stated in her article, What Freedom Really Means, “That’s what true freedom looks like. You won’t find it in a snarky Facebook post. Or in the rant of a ‘religious’ {any} leader tearing others to shreds. It won’t be at the table with gossip. Because the irony is: when we stop loving, we give up our freedom. We become entangled in our own words and hatred until we can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t even drive our own RV. Yes, July 4th is a time to celebrate a significant event in history. But let’s also think about what real freedom means for us right here, right now. We don’t need to win the lottery to send out a little more love into the world, like fireworks lighting up the dark.“