All around the world today, Americans celebrate the 4th of July at family gatherings, neighborhood picnics, community parades and public fireworks. It was on this day 235 years ago that representatives of the thirteen United States of America carefully and unanimously declared themselves to be independent of British rule. The most famous of their well-crafted sentences is the second:
“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.”
We do not so often quote the others. The declaration goes on to recognize that human beings are more prone to continue suffering under an abusive system than “to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” And it continues that when such abuses remain unchecked, leading to “absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
From the American Revolution to now, we have built our lives on the shoulders of generations who came before us—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters—who fought and died for our inalienable rights. Many in the world do not agree with these rights, and millions still endure their domination. Today, hundreds of thousands are drafting their own declarations and fighting their own revolutions to secure them.
The powers of the Status Quo will always fight for their survival. Thus, the declaration of our independence from any repressive system comes with a cost.
From the signing of America’s declaration in 1776, the war to secure those rights went on for another seven years. The costs were tremendous, both…
In financial terms:
- Americans spent $150 million, paid for by foreign and domestic loans and an early version of quantitative easing.
- The British spent £80 million, finishing the war with £250 million in debt.
- France spent the equivalent of $90 million and its resulting debt of $300 million is said to have had a major influence on the French Revolution.
And in loss of life:
- At least 25,000 American revolutionaries died in active duty: 8,000 in battle and another 17,000 from starvation and disease (half to three-quarters of them as prisoners of war). Between 8,500 and 25,000 were seriously wounded or disabled. And, as was often the case in those times, disease killed another 130,000 as a smallpox epidemic swept North America.
- Of 171,000 British sailors, about 1,240 were killed in service, 18,500 died from disease (mostly scurvy) and another 42,000 reportedly deserted.
- Figures for casualties among other fighting groups (Germans, French, Spanish, Loyalists, British regulars, and Native Americans) are not known.
Rights, even inalienable ones, cost. We may not have paid those costs personally, but someone did. That is what gives them value. It is as true at the personal level as the political. Not claiming our rights costs too, as we choose to suffer in relationships, companies and societies where we cannot flourish rather than pay the costs for our personal freedom.
One of the core precepts of the Wheel of Creativity is that dissolution of old forms is absolutely necessary for the creation of something new. Dissolution is as much a part of the cycle of creativity as is creation. But real change begins within and spreads out from there. And when we set out on the journey to create a better life, our vision is in fact strengthened by the resistance of the Status Quo.
The 56 men of the 13 states who signed the declaration we celebrate today knew there would be costs. In the face of that they committed themselves and what they held most dear to each other:
“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
We are not alone here. What we do (or don’t do) affects the global community. So, today, as we’re grilling our burgers and slicing the watermelon, let us remember those who made it possible, those around the world who are fighting still, and ourselves as we declare our rights and responsibilities in our own brief time on this Earth.
Happy Independence Day!