In July of 1839, a group of Africans illegally taken into slavery from Sierra Leone, carried out a mutiny on a Cuban ship called The Amistad. Not knowing where they were headed, the Africans landed on the shores of Long Island where they were imprisoned on charges of murder. The case eventually made it to the United States Supreme Court where former president, John Quincy Adams, defended the African’s right to liberty, leaning on the words of the Declaration of Independence—that all men are created equal.
As Americans, we celebrate the freedoms defined in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States. As parents, it’s important to teach our children where these freedoms come from—first from God, and then from the people. We must never allow the next generation to be deceived by the false claim that the people serve the government—but instead, it is the government that serves all the people—each created equal by this same God.
Freedom: The Natural State of Mankind
In the movie of the same name, John Quincy Adams refutes the claims of his former vice president, John Calhoun, who asserted that slavery is the natural state of mankind.
“Now, gentlemen, I must say I differ with the keen minds of the South, and with our President, who apparently shares their views, offering that the natural state of mankind is instead—and I know this is a controversial idea—is freedom.”
“And the proof is the length to which a man, woman, or child will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains. He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.”
Of course, John Quincy learned the principles of freedom from his famous father, John Adams. The elder Adams is called the “engine of independence” for his tireless efforts to obtain independence from Great Britain. In the midst of the debate, an indispensable concept led to the birth of American freedom. Adams was so busy, that he asked his friend, Thomas Jefferson to write the document that would become known as the Declaration of Independence. From this truly revolutionary document, a celestial idea emerged that still reverberates today – that all men are created equal.
Seeds of a Revolution
Great Britain had been entangled for years in a global struggle with their then-archenemy, France. Strife erupted in the mid-1750s between them for control of North America—a conflict that became the French and Indian War. This tinder box led to another worldwide struggle in what became known as the Seven Years War—a bloodbath that saw more than a million casualties around the world.
Great Britain eventually emerged victorious in this conflict, taking possession of much of the French holdings in North America—but it came at a tremendous cost. As the Americans gained the most from this costly victory, much of the expense was passed along to the colonials by the king and parliament in a series of highly unpopular taxes. The first of these hates levies was the Stamp Act of 1765.
In the following years, Parliament continued to pass laws governing the American colonies without the input of their North American citizens, raising the ire of the colonists. This growing frustration led to the anti-British slogan, “taxation without representation.”
Don’t Tread on Me: The Americans Respond
Parliament continued to pass taxes like the Tea Act and Sugar Act over the next decade. Frustration over the lack of a voice in these expensive levies led to the rise of colonial militias calling themselves ‘patriots.’ Aggravation turned to violence with the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. These events were answered by an increase in British military presence in Massachusetts, including the quartering and feeding of British soldiers in American private homes without compensation.
In response to growing political and violent opposition, King George closed the port of Boston, cutting off the economic supply to many in New England. With this heavy-handed military act, many American colonists concluded that they had enough.
On April 17, 1775, colonial militias clashed with British troops in the towns of Concord and Lexington leading to death on both sides. The next month, Ethan Allen seized Fort Ticonderoga in New York state from the British.
At the same time, representatives from all 13 colonies gathered in emergency session for the first time as a Continental Congress. In response to the growing crises, in June of 1775, George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army by the new congress.
Resolved: These Colonies Are Free and Independent
One year later, another Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, returned from Williamsburg with his famous proposal of independence to the Congress:
“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
As debate raged among the various representatives, it appeared there would be no consensus on the question of independence. John Adams recommended a pause in the debate to allow time for the writing of a declaration stating the reasons for the call for separation.
Thomas Jefferson would later explain that the purpose of this declaration was “…to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as the command their assent. In the crucible of revolutionary fervor, the immortal words of the declaration emerged:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.“
On July 1, delegates of the Continental Congress passionately debated whether the 13 original colonies should declare their independence from Britain’s Parliament and King George III. As they deliberated, British ships sailed into New York Harbor, threatening George Washington and the Continental Army.
The following day, July 2, delegates from 12 colonies voted in favor of independence (New York would follow suit on July 9). The following day, Congress made minor revisions to the draft of the declaration. That same day, John Adams shared with his wife, Abigail, his vision of the future celebration of these momentous events.
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
It was on the 4th of July, 1776, that the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence—the official birth of the United States of America.
A New Birth of Freedom
More than 80 years later, in the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln referred back to the Declaration to remind his fellow countrymen of the sacred promise made to humanity within that bedrock document:
“…our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Lincoln noted in his famous Gettysburg Address, that in fighting, and hopefully winning the Civil War, the Union was expanding its understanding of this the notion that “all are created equal.”
“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
Final Thoughts: All Men Are Create Equal
This new birth of freedom expanded what the original founders envisioned in the phrase “all are created equal” to people of every color, nation, tribe, and tongue. This hallowed concept has spread around the world, lighting the torch of freedom everywhere and inspiring other nations to rise to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. As you speak to your children about the Fourth of July and the concept of freedom, remind them to be grateful for the concepts of freedom found in the Declaration
In one of the ironies of American history, on July 4, 1826—50 years to the day of the founding of America—the dynamo of the American Revolution, John Adams, and the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, both died. The last poignant words of John Adams were “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” The truth is that Jefferson had died five hours earlier at his home, Monticello, in Virginia.
Perhaps without his knowing it, this one final prophetic utterance of the great John Adams, proclaimed that the earth shattering phrase penned by Jefferson outlived these two founding giants, and still survives today:
…that all men are created equal.