Our second president was right. Independence Day is a day for rejoicing in our nation’s freedom and our ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It’s a day for celebrating everything that makes this country the greatest free nation in the world and to take stock of the good fortune we all have to call ourselves Americans.
It’s also a day to celebrate the fact that 239 years ago, our forefathers stood up and boldly declared to the world that they were no longer the subjects of a monarch but would instead be responsible for their own governance. This declaration came in an era when kings, queens and noble elites ruled over empires with little to check their power.
That is until a rag-tag band of rural farmers, merchants and businessmen from Boston, Philadelphia, Virginia and the other American colonies stood up to the world’s greatest military power at the time and won their independence from Great Britain.
When the signers of the Declaration of Independence bravely signed their names on that document on July 4, 1776, they knew full-well that they – almost all of them men of means – were risking their fortunes and more importantly their lives by standing up to the British crown. Yet they knew that their work was about something larger than their own lives. They knew that their decision was being watched by the rest of the world and that just as John Adams said, its outcome would be celebrated for centuries.
Indeed, the signers of that declaration blazed the trail for freedom-loving people around the world who were now emboldened to take control of their own governance. In France, revolutionaries overthrew their monarchy, and other nations soon realized that it was representative government – not bloodlines or crowns – that would govern free people in the future.
Of course, the struggle for liberty and independence was not over in 1776. It was only just beginning as the American Revolution would not formally conclude until 1783. The intervening years, and the years leading up to July 4, 1776, were marked by heroic sacrifices by colonial militias and the fledging Continental Army. After all, it was minutemen that rode with Paul Revere to alert Citizen Soldiers at Lexington and Concord that the British were on their way to seize a colonial weapons cache. These same Citizen Soldiers – the forefathers of today’s National Guard – then fired the “Shot heard ‘round the world.”
Militiamen were key to winning the long campaign against the British, and though the last major battle of the war concluded in 1781 with the British surrender at Yorktown and America won its independence, the Citizen Soldier and the U.S. military to this day continue to protect that liberty and independence that was secured at such a cost in the Revolution.
That struggle is not over today. Liberty, as it has been throughout history, is under threat around the world, and the Citizen Soldier continues to stand to protect it from tyrants.
Citizen Soldiers have answered the call in nearly every one of our nation’s conflicts and helped ensure that liberty and independence would be protected for the next generation. That is as true today as it was in 1775 when the first shot rang out at Lexington. And though we can once again celebrate our nation’s independence this July 4, we must never forget that it came at a cost and that it must be continually protected. Today’s National Guard will stand watch as the guardian of that hard-won freedom and remain ready to protect it, just as it has done since the earliest days of America.