What Independence means

On July 4th we celebrate the Independence of our country from Great Britain, but what does that really mean to us today as opposed to those who came before us? As we prepare to watch fireworks and fire up the grills in celebration of our “freedom”, we should ponder the thoughts and ideas of those that have come before us and understand what this day meant to them. If we do this then maybe it will cause us to focus more clearly on the actual meaning of Independence and what it took to achieve it while we watch the night sky light up once again.

There are no better people to look at when thinking of Independence day then the signers of the Constitution themselves. The men that risked their lives to sign the document, and then stood proudly on the steps of the capitol on July 8th and read the declaration out loud proclaiming liberty throughout the land. We can’t even get past the words engraved on the Liberty Bell, which are taken from the Bible, without getting a glimpse of what the feeling was at the time by these men and others. The words “Proclaim liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof” are right out of the book of Leviticus that is talking about the year of jubilee. The year of jubilee was a year where the poor were forgiven their debt and slaves were given their freedom. Even though slavery was a problem in the colonization of the new world, and would become a black eye again in years to come, this was thought of as a time of liberation both physically and spiritually by the founders of our country.

We can learn from the writings of these men that all but five of them were active in churches that taught not only about monotheism, but that Christ was Lord as well.  This is quite clearly laid out in Professor M.E. Bradford’s book, A Worthy Company (2)

The two men we hear most about coincidentally were probably the most secular of them all and they were hardly anti religion. Ben Franklin defended Christianity against Thomas Paine and was very good friends with George Whitfield. Thomas Jefferson was our third President and is known as the Father of the Declaration of Independence. He signed official Presidential documents with “In the year of our Lord Christ” and called for the great seal of the United States to be made after a Bible story.

Jefferson originally left the references to God out of the Declaration and only mentioned the laws of nature, however, it is a fact that most of the Declaration can be attributed to the writings of John Locke which is clear that the laws of nature are in direct relation to the laws of God in a created order. 

Locke explained that the “law of nature” is God’s general revelation of law in creation, which God also supernaturally writes on the hearts of men. Locke drew the idea from the New Testament in Romans 1 and 2. In contrast, he spoke of the “law of God” or the “positive law of God” as God’s eternal moral law specially revealed and published in Scripture.(1)

What Jefferson originally left as implied, the others decided to be more direct and referenced God 4 times in the final document.  Some say that this was solely to please the predominantly Christian constituency of the day, and while this is not discounted from a political perspective, to rule out the biographies of these men and their Christian writings and say that they did not mean these things is to stand facts and logic on their heads. 

There is some evidence that these men were deists instead of monotheists, however there is no doubt that they believed in God and defended the Christian faith.

But what about the other 54 that we are taught little or even nothing about, were they men who questioned the existence of God and therefore thought we should keep religion and government separate? What were the leading causes that drove these men to sign their very lives away for the cause of freedom?

John Adams was the second President of the United States. He believed that July 4th should actually be a religious holiday when we would engage in solemn acts of devotion to God almighty.

Samuel Adams and John Hancock might be the next best known of the signers. The British hated these two men so much that when pardons for recanting were offered these two men were not included because it was stated that their guilt was too deep for clemency. Sam Adams is clear in his writings that he took up arms for Religious freedom. Hancock was the President of Congress at the time of the signing and the first to officially sign the document. When it was suggested that in order to remove the British from Boston that the entire city may have to be besieged, Hancock was in favor of the move even though it meant that most of his fortune would be lost if it came to that. This does not strike one as something politicians of today would be willing to sign up for.

John Witherspoon was an ordained minister and descendant of John Knox. He was involved in printings of the Bible in America and published several books on Gospel sermons.

One of the greatest of the signers, Benjamin Rush, was one of the greatest doctors in the country and referred to as the father of American medicine. He was heavily involved in the mass publication of the Bible in America. His writings leave no doubt of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Thomas Mckean was a Supreme Court Chief Justice for the state of Pennsylvania and was known to ask people to receive Christ from the bench. He was forced to move his family constantly to avoid capture and served in the Congress without pay for his troubles. He ended up losing most of his possessions and was left in poverty.

During the first three years of the Revolutionary war the United States could not get loans to fund the war. Robert Morris was responsible for funding much of that on his own personal credit. Without this funding the war might have gone a very different path. You do not see any acts of this kind of selflessness in Congress today.

John Hart was a man of strong Christian faith that was known as someone who cared about three things in life that were his Savior, his family and his farm. Out of fear for his life, he was driven from his home and while he was gone the British destroyed most of what he owned. Before he could safely return his wife was dead and his children gone.

John Peter Muhlenberg was a minister as well as an officer. He is famous for dressing in full uniform in front of the congregation and leading a brigade of nearly 300 recruits that would be known as the Eighth Virginia Brigade.

Thomas Nelson Jr. ordered his own home destroyed when the British were held up in it and using it as a headquarters. Most of his wealth was lost and he is said to have died bankrupt.

The British captured the wife of Francis Lewis and she died in jail.

Nine of the 56 signers died as a result of war and five others were captured and imprisoned for their actions.

The genius of these men is also lost in today’s textbooks. Men that came up with founding documents that both recognized the creator as the one who gave unalienable rights, and devised a system that would govern those rights free of religious dominance. Instead we have people telling us that the separation of church and state, something found nowhere in any founding document, was meant to keep religion within the four walls of the church and out of policy. There is no other lie being told today greater then this since it is clear that the founders would never have meant this, and that the idea of separating the church from the state was to avoid the establishment of a national religion that the founders found so reprehensible in the government they were declaring independence from.

When we celebrate our independence this July 4th, lets remember the sacrifice of those who led the cause and the reasons that they had for doing it. Keeping sight of these facts will allow us to not be led astray by those who wish to take the country in a very different direction then originally intended. American liberty hangs in the balance now as it did then and it will take strong Americans standing up to preserve what has been handed down to us.


(1) Gary Amos, Defending the Declaration (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1989), 57.

(2) M.E. Bradford, A Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (Marlborough, NH: Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1982).

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