Let's start with a few misconceptions about how you came to be:
- Right off the bat you need to know that you are not a Christian nation, so let that one go. You are not a religious nation of any stripe, and you should be proud of that. It's what makes you uniquely you. You are a secular nation, founded by British subjects who no longer wanted to be ruled by a monarch across the ocean, nor by his religious arm - the Church of England. Some of the men who created you were Protestants and some were Atheists, but the majority of them were what's known as Deists. They believed that there was a Creator of some sort (thus the phrase, "endowed by their Creator" instead of "endowed by God"), but they believed that this was proven by reason and observing the natural world, and they rejected organized religion of any type. They believed that, once created, the world ran like clockwork without intervention from the clock maker. They were an unconventional lot, Freemasons and Freethinkers, heavily influenced by the Enlightenment. They were the New-Agers of the 18th Century. Many of the men we now call the Founding Fathers wrote at great length about the fact that you were most definitely not a nation founded on religion, but a nation founded on reason and common law.
- That "common law" part is very important. It means that your laws are not based on any religious doctrine, but on precedent. It means that, in general, your laws were not meant to be legislated, but developed over time ... by judges. Yes, that's right, that term "legislating from the bench" is actually how the Founders meant for your laws to develop. Common law is both a very old form of lawmaking, and yet it stays very current, because it's meant to be malleable and is based on the idea that laws should and do change as social needs and human understanding changes. The Founders made provision for creating laws at the Federal level through the legislature, but those were meant to be the big unifying laws that effected how the government operated. They maintained the idea that most laws, and especially civil laws, should and must change over time, and that judges are primarily the ones who should make those changes.
- Contrary to current popular belief, you were not born because Americans wanted to keep their guns. You were born because the phrase "taxation without representation" is meant to be taken literally. As a British colony, early settlers on these shores paid colonial taxes that were levied locally, and they paid 1 shilling per year directly to Great Britain. They felt they were paying an adequate amount. Additional taxes levied by Great Britain (the Stamp Act and the tea tax for example) were enacted by Parliament without any representation by the colonists, which led to rioting in the streets of Boston and the dumping of a boatload of tea into Boston Harbor. King George III placed Massachusetts under military rule, all hell broke loose, and a year later you were born. It took seven years of bloody war before Britain finally accepted your long-form birth certificate and believed you were America.
- You had a very long gestation before you emerged on July 4, 1776. You developed over a period of fifteen years, created by representatives from the thirteen colonies who met three times at conventions they called the Continental Congress. Not all of the members wanted independence from Great Britain at the First Continental Congress, but by the time the Second Continental Congress met in 1775 we were at war with Great Britain (see Item 2, above). The first document drafted by the delegates in 1775 was an attempt at reconciliation with King George III entitled "The Declaration of Rights and Grievances." King George was not pleased and he stepped up his efforts to quell the colonists insurrection by military force.
- On July 4, 1776, the representatives to the Second Continental Congress took a very bold step. They officially established the Continental Army, appointed George Washington as its Commander In Chief and drew up two documents: the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. I'll bet you thought I was going to say the Constitution. Well, that's sort of a dirty little secret about your birth -- you started out life as a Confederacy.
- As a Confederacy, you were a collection of states, all with their own legislatures and finances, supposedly under the umbrella of the Confederation Congress to which each state sent representatives. When the Revolutionary War ended, you owed a lot of money -- $40 million -- to a lot of people. You owed the French and the Dutch governments $8 million, and $32 million in domestic debt incurred in fighting the war. The problem was, the Confederation Congress had no money. It could borrow money and print money, but the money it printed was worthless so the debts could not be paid. Without power to compel the states to help pay the debt the states not only stopped sending money voluntarily, they stopped sending representatives to the Congress. What a mess.
Okay, I'm not being totally honest with you. All of those things I just told you were sort of about you, but sort of not. This is the other thing you need to know. You were not an only child. You had an older sibling (the Confederacy) who was born on July 4, 1776, but that sibling died and that's when you were conceived as a Constitutional Republic. We called both of you the United States of America.
Here's what happened:
- By 1787 the unpaid army was falling apart, foreign countries were refusing to do business with the United States. Individual states were setting up their own foreign trade agreements, creating their own armies and starting wars ... and the poor old Confederation Congress was barely able to get enough representatives together to form a quorum. The Confederacy was only eleven years old and it looked as if it wasn't going to survive.
- In a last-ditch effort to save its life, the Confederation Congress talked twelve of the thirteen states into meeting one more time to try to revise the Articles of Confederation and hold the Union of states together. After much debate it was clear that the Confederacy had severe, life-threatening birth defects and the decision was made to pull the plug. The Articles of Confederation died in Annapolis, Maryland in June of 1787. The death was hushed up and you were created in secret by the Constitutional Convention. It took a lot of debating to create this new form of government cobbled together with ideas of governance from the Magna Carta, the Roman Empire and in large part from the Iroquois nation. In fact, we borrowed the phrase "We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order..." from the Iroquois Constitution (a fact we finally officially recognized in October of 1988 when the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331) It also took a lot of salesmanship to get the states to ratify this crazy new idea, but they got it done and you were officially born on September 13, 1788 -- twelve years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Like all living things, you've grown and changed since your birth. You got ten amendments called the Bill of Rights in 1791, twenty-seven more since then, and there are several on deck even now. You're only 223 years old and you aren't done growing yet.
We celebrate your birthday on July 4th because that's when we stopped being British and started being American, even though it took a dozen more years to figure out what that meant and how to accomplish it.
There's one last thing I want to tell you about your birthday. It isn't a military holiday. I know we shoot off fireworks and that a lot of people use this day to talk about supporting our troops and thanking our troops for our freedom, but the fact is, we have other holidays to honor them, and we don't really honor them for securing our freedom. The only soldiers who ever fought for America's freedom fought in the American Revolution. Since then our soldiers have fought for a lot of other reasons, but never again to purchase our freedom. So yes, we are certainly grateful for the Continental Army, but today is really about an elite group of well educated Freethinkers and politicians who met in Philadelphia and wrote the Declaration of Independence. They didn't exactly prove that the pen is mightier than the sword, but they did prove that sometimes it takes both, and we wouldn't be the United States of America without them:
- John Adams - Educated at Harvard, lawyer, political theorist and c0-drafter of the Declaration of Indpendence.
- Benjamin Franklin -Self-educated after the age of ten, voracious reader, author, printer, scientist, inventor, civic activist, foreign diplomat and creator of one of the first volunteer firefighting companies in America.
- Alexander Hamilton - Educated at King's College (now Columbia University), lawyer, banker, founder of the U.S. Mint, co-author of the Federalist Papers.
- John Jay - Educated at King's College, lawyer, diplomat, co-author of the Federalist Papers, first Chief Justice of the United States.
- Thomas Jefferson - Educated at the College of William and Mary, lawyer, farmer, collector of books, fluent in seven languages, principle author of the Declaration of Independence.
- James Madison - Educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Hebrew scholar, tobacco farmer, c0-author of the Federalist Papers, author of the United States Bill of Rights and considered to be the Father of the Constitution.
- George Washington - Home schooled, surveyor, land-holder, aristocrat, distinguished military leader, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, first President of the United States. Considered to be the Father of the Country.
You have two dads!