So, here’s how it went down: it was in August of 1775 that a royal proclamation declared that the American subjects were "engaged in open and avowed rebellion."
It was in May that the Virginia Convention ordered, and I quote, that "the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body, to declare the United Colonies free and independent states."
And so it was that Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee fulfilled that charge with his resolution beginning: "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; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together."
It was in June that Congress appointed the famous committee of five to draft a case for independence. This committee of five consisted of two from New England - John Adams of Mass and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two from the Middle Colonies - Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert Livingston of New York; and one from the south - Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
According to Jefferson, the other members of the committee, and I quote, "unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draft.” And for those among you who have done committee work, you know this to be entirely possible. Before I reported it to the committee, I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”
It was on July 1 of 1776, that Congress reconvened.
It was on July 2nd that Lee’s resolution for independence was adopted.
It was through July 3rd that revision of the committee of five’s document continued, and it was on July 4th that those church bells – at long last – rang over Philadelphia, signifying the adoption of what remained largely Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
And that’s what we commemorate – the adoption of what remained largely Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
It was on July 5th that copies were dispatched to assemblies, to conventions, to committees, to commanders. Of the original 200 or so, there are 26 known copies of this Dunlap Broadside (John Dunlap being the official printer for Congress) - 21 owned by American institutions, 2 owned by British institutions, and 3 owned by private parties. It was in 1989 that a man purchased a copy at a flea market because he liked its frame. He sold it for over 8 million dollars.
It was on July 19th that Congress ordered that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title, “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.”
And it was on August 2nd that the journal of the Continental Congress records that the Declaration of Independence beginning, “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” was signed by lawyers and planters and merchants and shippers – each signing in keeping with the geography of his colony.
It was on August 2nd that the journal of the Continental Congress records that the Declaration of Independence continuing, “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,” was signed by men aged 26 to 70 years of age, men totaling 56 in number, men - roughly half of whom were slave owners.
So, to say it more concisely: it was in August of 1775 that the King declared the American subjects to be "engaged in open and avowed rebellion.” And it was in August of 1776 that the American subjects declared the King to be absolutely correct.
Now, what lesser teachers than Mr. Ingle often allow us to miss is that Jefferson’s first draft of the declaration included a stern rebuke of slavery with phrases such as, “war against Nature itself,” and “violating sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People.”
In addressing why his stern rebuke didn’t make the final cut, Jefferson (who had twice before attempted to toss a proverbial wrench into the slave trade machine) answered by saying that, “The idea that we had friends in England worth keeping, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages were struck, lest they should give offense.”
In other words, Jefferson’s stern rebuke of slavery was struck for fear it might offend.
And he continued by saying that, “The clause reprobating enslaving inhabitants of Africa, was struck in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who wished to continue.”
In other words, Jefferson’s stern rebuke of slavery was struck for fear it might inconvenience.
And what lesser teachers than Mr. Ingle often allow us to miss is that Thomas Jefferson (the “all-men-are-created-equal-Thomas-Jefferson”) enslaved some 600 souls over his lifetime, selling humans to other humans from his very death bed that he – in the end a desperate, destitute, and dying man - might be able to pay his final bills.
Now, I offer you Mr. Ingle’s 7th grade history lesson not that we might demonize, diminish, or discard those who came before. Were we to discard every great work performed by everyday Joes with quirks and challenges and issues, our history books would be thin, indeed. We certainly wouldn’t have as much great music. Or as much inspired poetry. Or as much beautiful art. And God knows, we wouldn’t have as many inspired leaders.
As I’ve said so many times before, history’s great works aren’t the stuff of those who are perfect. History’s great works are the stuff of those who are willing. And maybe this is the message someone is reading this to get. If you think you have to achieve some standard of perfection or readiness or holiness before you can give the world the full experience of you, you’re wasting time.
I truly believe that our founding fathers did the best they could do – knowing what they knew, and living when, where and how they lived.
I offer you Mr. Ingle’s 7th grade history lesson that we might stop worshipping mythologized characters and start furthering important ideas.
What Thomas Jefferson was talking about is the idea of life’s inherent equality and freedom and right to be, and it’s an idea that didn’t begin in 1775.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters would recognize this idea in that defining narrative myth as set forth in Exodus.
The Israelites had long been enslaved by the Egyptians when the prophet Moses was described as having a revelation so profound that it could only be described in the language of light. Moses was described as having a revelation that he was to free the Israelites and, as we humans tend to do, he responded by questioning that revelation.
Imagine Moses standing before a burning bush asking, “Who? Me?” much like Jefferson, who would come many years later, “I’m not exactly a perfect person.”
Ultimately, the narrative described Moses as asking under what authority he would free the Israelites at which point the Judeo-Christian Bible sets forth the first name for God as “I am that I am.” In other words, the revelation of Moses was that I-am-ness, that is-ness, that being-ness, that life itself was ample authority for the revelation of life’s inherent equality and freedom and right to be.
Our Christian brothers and sisters would recognize this idea in the life of Jesus himself – born at the bottom rung of societal influence and power to an unwed teenage mother, raised under Roman occupation, executed for sedition against empire only to be recorded as resurrecting, as another declaration of life’s inherent equality and freedom and right to be.
It’s an idea that your parents would recognize in the courageous souls who dismantled apartheid.
It’s an idea that your grandparents would recognize in the courageous souls who led the civil rights movement.
It’s an idea that your great grandparents would recognize in the courageous souls who launched the women’s suffrage cause.
And it’s an idea that we recognize today in the courageous souls who represent the rights of animals and the rights of forests and the rights of oceans. It’s an idea that we recognize today in the courageous souls who pursue vehicles for racial healing. It’s an idea that we recognize today in the courageous souls who set standards for gender equality. It’s an idea that we recognize today in the courageous souls who seek systems of economic justice. It's an idea that we recognize today in the Malalas and Gretas and Yaras and Cierras.
We in Unity recognize the idea of life’s inherent equality in you with your every choice to welcome and to be welcomed, with your every choice to reach beyond the bounds of personal comfort for connection, with your every choice to practice curiosity and vulnerability, with your every choice to claim your worth.
We recognize the idea of freedom in you with your every choice to lift self beyond the stale beliefs and ancient practices which no longer serve the emerging you, with your every choice to untie self from yesterday’s so-called failures and from society’s cynicism, with your every choice to lift self into higher realms than those driven by popularity, probability, people pleasing and personal pleasure.
And we recognize in you the idea of the inherent right to be with your every choice to refute abuse in any and every form, whether inflicted upon self or another, with your every choice to speak truth and to declare justice, with your every choice to see the Divine in the life which exists all around you.
I offer you Mr. Ingle’s 7th grade history lesson that we might stop worshipping mythologized characters and start furthering important ideas. You see, that’s the difference between history and spirituality. History is the study of those souls who grasp ideas. Spirituality is the study of those ideas that grasp souls.
And as Thomas Jefferson stood upon the shoulders of those who went before to further this idea as best as he could, and as Mandela, King and Anthony stood upon the shoulders of those who went before to further this idea as best as they could, so this divine idea has been entrusted to us to further as best as we can.