This coming Monday we will celebrate the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the birth of our nation. It was July 4, 1776 in the city of Philadelphia. The Second Continental Congress had formally declared the American colonies independent of Great Britain. But now, looking at the wording describing King George VI as: “ . . . a tyrant, unfit to be the ruler of a free people,” they were having second thoughts.
“Have we gone too far?” they wondered. There was little doubt that if they signed the Declaration they would be branded as rebels and enemies of the crown—and every one of them knew it!
The discussion went back and forth. Tempers f lared. A few ardent patriots argued against any compromise. However, it was evident that they were not ready to approve the Declaration as it was written.
The cause seemed lost. Then a tall, dignified man arose. “The chair recognizes Dr. John Witherspoon, delegate from New Jersey,” announced the presiding officer, John Hancock. A hush fell over the assembly; all eyes focused on the speaker.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men,” John Witherspoon said, speaking slowly and emphasizing every word. “It is before us now. To hesitate is to consent to our own slavery.”
“That noble instrument on your table, which insures immortality to its author, should be subscribed this very morning by every pen in this house. He who will not respond to its accents and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions is unworthy the name of freeman.”
He paused, his eye fixed on the tense faces before him. “For my own part,” he continued, “My reputation is staked, my property, such as I have, is pledged on the issues of this contest. I do not have too many years left to live, but I would infinitely rather die at the hand of the executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country.”
For a while there was silence. One could have heard a pin drop. Then the delegates leaped to their feet, calling for action. The Declaration of Independence was signed by every one of the delegates and liberty was preserved.
On this Independence Day weekend let us give thanks to Almighty God whose love has led us in the past. Then in support of the Declaration of Independence, along with the fifty-six who signed for us, let us “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church in Temple where he served as senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.