This coming Monday, we celebrate the birthday of our nation, the day when our founding fathers courageously declared independence from a monarchy that had become tyrannical. It is the day when we rightly celebrate our freedom. On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. We celebrate that day every year with picnics, gatherings of family and friends, parades and fireworks. It is also a day to thank God for our freedom and to pray for our nation, something recommended by John Adams, who, on the day after signing the Declaration of Independence, wrote that July 4th “ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
Our founding fathers knew that religion and morality were necessary for the success of their great experiment. In his farewell address at the end of his presidency, George Washington declared: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”
Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence (Catholics were a very small minority in the 13 colonies in 1776), wrote: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion whose morality is so sublime and pure … are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” It seems these words could have been written today. Some years ago, Blessed John Paul II delivered a similar message when he said that “a democracy without values can lose its very soul” and that “in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation.”
In the opening paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers appealed to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” as the basis of their decision to declare independence. They went on to state the unforgettable words that many of us were taught to memorize in school:
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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.
These words reveal a core belief of our founding fathers which happens to be a core tenet of our Catholic faith, namely that God has created all people equal and has endowed them with inalienable rights, rights not deriving from the state or government or given to them by others. They are from God. They can be discerned by reason because they are revealed by the natural law which is written on all human hearts, a law which is a participation in God’s law. Among these rights, the Declaration of Independence lists life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Legalized abortion in our nation is a denial of the first inalienable right. It is a denial of the self-evident truth that all people, born and unborn, are endowed by their Creator with the right to life.
Our founding fathers declared their independence from the British monarchy, not their independence from their Creator. They recognized the primacy of God and his Providence. They recognized that the true source of liberty is God. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
Our founding fathers recognized the existence of objective truths. They were not relativists. They courageously proclaimed these self-evident truths, truths discernible by reason since they are written in the human heart (“natural law”). Even Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, himself more a deist than a Christian, believed that God has impressed moral precepts on the human heart.
All 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence expressed their dependence upon God in making such a bold move. The Declaration ends with these words: “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.” As we celebrate our nation’s independence, it is good to reaffirm our dependence on God and our commitment to the principles of our nation’s “birth certificate,” the Declaration of Independence. In an age of increasing relativism, let us affirm with courage that we, like our founding fathers, hold certain truths to be self-evident. As Catholics and as Americans, we are called to proclaim and defend these truths, the transcendent values of the natural law which were foundational for our great republic.
In his inaugural address, President George Washington reminded the nation: “The propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.”
As we celebrate the 4th of July this year, let us thank God for our freedom and let us pray for our nation and its recommitment to our patrimony of moral truth.
I was on the south lawn of the White House three years ago when our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, pronounced these words that are apropos for our reflection on the 4th of July:
“From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the ‘self-evident truth’ that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. … Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”
Happy 4th of July! God bless America!
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.