‘In God We Trust’: Independence Day, 4th July.   2 comments

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

THOMAS JEFFERSON

Declaration of Independence,

4th July 1776

The fourth of July is the most important day in the national heritage of the United States and quite an important date in British History, too. It marks the end of Britain’s first overseas Empire. The seeds of independence were sown in 1608 when John Smith founded the state of Virginia, named after Queen Elizabeth I, ‘the Virgin Queen’. Smith married the native princess, Pocahontas, of course, and his motives were for settlement rather than piracy and plunder, like earlier Elizabethan adventurers. The Pilgrim Fathers, ‘independent’ Christians who sailed in The Mayflower in 1620 to seek a country where they could practise their own forms of faith, free from the state Church in Britain and the watchful eyes of King James’ spies. Maryland was founded by Roman Catholics from England in 1633, who were also persecuted by the state church for not ‘conforming’. Other colonists seeking freedom of religion followed from Ireland, France and Holland, until, by the time of King George III there were thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America, owing varying degrees of ‘loyalty’ to the British Crown.

The colonists considered themselves subjects of the King of England and there was little desire to become independent in 1760, at the beginning of George III’s reign, but they became increasingly resentful of the taxes they had to pay to a distant government, then several weeks away by sea voyage, when they had no representatives in Parliament. Their trade was controlled from London, through laws, regulations, restrictions and high custom tariffs. The colonists protested with the slogan, ‘no taxation without representation’. A ‘Continental Congress’ was formed, meeting in Philadelphia, the city of ‘brotherly love’ founded by William Penn, the English Quaker, who gave his name to the state of Pennsylvania. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was discussed and voted on and adopted on 4th July, 1776. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, whose father came from Glynceiriog in North Wales. It was no doubt from his father that he inherited both his spirit of independence and his gift as a ‘wordsmith’. The American War of Independence dragged on for another five years, until the Independence of the United States was recognised by the European powers by the Treaty of Paris in 1782. In the end, the break between the British and the Americans was made without bitterness on either side, enabling the restoration of a friendship between the English-speaking nations which survives to this day.

Independence Day festivities usually take place outside, with parades, barbecues and picnics. The flag of the United States, ‘the Stars and Stripes’, is displayed everywhere, and in schools there is an emphasis on the spirit and theme of Independence in projects and pageants. Families attend church services on the previous Sunday. On the day itself there are speeches by mayors and senators, picnics and parades led by local bands and drum majorettes. The day ends with spectacular firework displays. There is a mood of patriotism, but also one of reconciliation, based on the concept that independence is the basis for a spirit of international inter-dependence and co-operation, rather than the ‘isolationism’ which has, on occasion, brought tragic consequences in international relations.

Within the United States, the strict separation between Church and State has ensured Liberty and Toleration for those of all beliefs, and none, as its founders intended. However, unlike in Britain, Americans do not confuse these secular principles with atheistic ones. The Declaration of Independence begins with an open affirmation of ‘the Creator’ on whom  the inalienable rights of humans depend. On the same side of the coin with Washington’s head on it next to the word ‘Liberty’ is the declaration ‘In God We Trust’. They might have added the word ‘Alone’, but they didn’t add the words ‘and the President’ or ‘and the Federal Government‘. American citizens are independent of the control of the state, and are not subject to any man or woman, no matter how rich, powerful or great they may be. They are only subject to the Creator. So, independence from others is the same side of the coin as trust in God. The state, or states, are on the other side, separate but yet connected in terms of  ‘paying dues to Caesar’.  It’s these themes of independence and inter-dependence which I want to explore in relation to the stage in life where we come more independent, as we leave school and move on in life. That’s the subject of my next blog….

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2 responses to “‘In God We Trust’: Independence Day, 4th July.

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  1. Excellent essay. I like your “In God Alone We Trust”. That was the intent, wasn’t it? Those who depend too much upon the government become slaves of the government. (And drag the rest of us with them!) We can right our course. It will be difficult but I’m up for it. Thanks for the link.

    Freedom, by the way
    • Thanks for your comment. I agree, and that’s partly what I meant, but Jesus also taught that we need to ‘pay Caesar’ his dues,
      and we need ‘good government’. However, when it comes to faith and belief, we need to stand on our own two feet, and trust in God alone. In the US system it seems to me that the state is the guarantor of religious freedom, but it is not neutral about faith, not agnostic.

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