Never forget what today is.

Never forget what we celebrate. What we remember.

Not the Battles of Lexington and Concord, where the Minutemen defeated trained British soldiers for the first (and certainly not the last) times.

Not the establishment of General George Washington and his implausible, unbreakable, underfunded Army.

Not the blast of a cannon.

Not the pop of a musket.

Not the trill of a fife setting the marching rhythm for those entering the battlefield.

No.

Today, we celebrate and remember a letter. Written by one man. Edited by a committee of five. Signed by 56 community leaders. 1,337 words long. We do not celebrate the actions today, but the words. Words that simply, clearly, and decisively declared that we are United. We are One. We are Free.

It is of great significance that the day we celebrate as the founding of our nation is not one of battles, military victories, or coups. It is not a day that is stained with the blood of our enemies, or immortalized by classical paintings depicting the sure and brave beheading of our tyrannical colonizers.

The sounds of our Independence were not the deafening volleys of bullets firing across a battlefield, or the cries of men fast breaking the bonds of their mortal coil. No. July Fourth, 1776 was remarkable for its silence. The total, frightened silence that filled the halls of the Continental Congress, interrupted only by the unmistakable scratch of pen on paper. After months of arguing, fighting, debating, and disagreeing, only the silence of terrified resolution remained.

“Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?”—Benjamin Rush

The Founders of this country were scared. They were uncertain. They were largely still in disagreement over the minutia of the daily workings of their own government. But they were united in their resolution. They were united in their belief in the good of the fight. And they used the strongest, most powerful weapon they had available to them. Their words.

Never forget, my dear fellow Americans, that frightening, silent day. Never forget that, when faced with a tyranny so intense as to be unbearable, they stood together in a majority. Never forget that they chose to do so without anonymity. That they signed “[their] lives, [their] fortunes, and [their] sacred honor” away to the cause of liberty. Never forget the active rebellion they undertook as signers, as writers. Never forget that a short letter, barely the length of a freshman essay, made the most powerful man on the Earth blink. Never forget the power of the words. The legacy they leave behind. Long after the signers have been buried, and the echoes of shots have faded on the battlefield, the words remain. They can’t fade.

United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

Independence Day is, truly, a celebration of writing. Of writing as something significant. Something permanent. Something powerful. Don’t forget that, my countrymen. You carry that power within you. That is your uniquely American legacy. Don’t scoff at this power. Don’t think that, because it is not as loud or impressive as the cannon blast, it cannot possibly inspire true change. I encourage us all to celebrate the birth of our beloved country by remembering the words, written and signed on a sultry day, a bold declaration against oppression and wrong. The signers knew they were taunting the most powerful Army, the most powerful man, the most far-reaching Empire of their time. They knew they would be accused of treason. They would be political pariahs. And they did it anyway. Because they also knew that it was right.

Often, bravery isn’t found in the grandest, loudest gestures. Often, bravery—true, American bravery—is found in the quiet acts. The act of using our words to declare what is right. Damn the consequences. And when we find the words that are truly right, we’ll know. Because we’ll stand with them.

We’ll sign our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honors to them.

We’ll proclaim them in the sunshine.

And we’ll make it last.

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”—Benjamin Franklin

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