There was no difference between July 3, 1776, and July 5. By all appearances, the American colonies were no more free, no more independent. The governing structures were not different.
So what makes the Fourth of July so special?
Consider this. We do not celebrate October 19, 1781, the date the war for American independence ended. There are no parades commemorating September 3, 1783, when the Treaty of Paris formally concluded the war.
No, we celebrate the Fourth of July. That is the day when our Founding Fathers firmly, finally, and officially committed themselves – their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor – to the cause of American liberty. Now, make no mistake: many of them had done so personally and individually weeks, months, even years earlier. Fighting had been going on between American and British forces for more than a year.
The Fourth of July is when the Congress declared American independence formally, and together. They acknowledged to each other and a candid world that they were dissolving their political bands with England. There would now be no going back.
We celebrate the Fourth of July because that is the day our Founding Fathers said it together, with one voice. We celebrate their commitment to the fight. We recognize that in the most important ways by choosing to declare their independence, they had already achieved it.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl reflected on his time in Auschwitz: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Just as Frankl refused to submit his humanity to Nazi captors, so our founding fathers chose to be free of English tyranny. That choice, the faithfulness to the fight, is what counts.
Holy Scripture tells us that, through Christ, we are already free. Through Him, we have attained the truest independence and victory over death. Yes, we still must struggle with sin, and rail against the fallen world. We are called to be faithful, to press on in the knowledge of our eternal freedom.
Nearly all of our Founding Fathers were men of faith; they understood that the struggle upon which they were to engage may or may not be successful in the eyes of the world. That didn’t matter; they achieved freedom in their choice, declared on the Fourth of July, and the fight ahead was merely the necessary consequence.
On Independence Day we celebrate their commitment to the ideals of self-governance. On Independence Day we celebrate their willingness to put their convictions to the test for themselves and for us.
On Independence Day we recommit ourselves to fighting not as if our liberty depends on it, but because the refusal to submit to the yoke of tyranny is driven by our liberty.