Time, God and The Declaration of Independence
We are destined for Eternity but in this life we live in Time, which consists of the temporal trinity of past, present and future. The present consists of an often confusing series of disparate events, while the future is a deep mystery to us all. When we recall the past we try to make sense of it all, giving order in our mind and our recollections to what has happened to us individually and collectively.
When we look back at the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence from our vantage point of 234 years in the future, everything seems neat and orderly, an old story that we recall from school, books, television and films. Perhaps to some of us it seems a bit trite and boring. Such was not the way it all appeared to the Founding Fathers. For them it was their present, and a chaotic present it must have seemed. On July 3, 1776 the day before the Declaration was adopted by the Continental Congress, a huge British army of some 30,000 men, all regular troops and superbly equipped, began landing on Staten Island. To oppose them, Washington could only gather together an army of 10,000, many of them untrained militia. In the ensuing campaign, Washington’s army would be beaten time and again, often coming close to destruction. The British would seize New York City, holding it until the end of the war in 1783. So it went throughout the Revolution, with the patriots fighting an uphill battle against the mightiest empire since the fall of Rome. At the end of the war, Washington made this observation:
“A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.”
Such statements as that made by Washington, that the Americans relied upon God in their hour of peril, were not rare in the Revolution. This was symbolized in the “An Appeal to Heaven” flags frequently used by Americans during the Revolution:
One of the reasons we study the past is to help guide our footsteps as we proceed into that unknown land, the future. The Revolution of course is a prime example that the future is always a product of what we do in the present. The Declaration is a brilliant statement of why the Americans were fighting. It would have just been another forgotten piece of paper, however, without the endless efforts of the patriots who fought a lopsided war to make the Independence proclaimed in the Declaration a reality. The patriots realized however that if they depended only upon their own efforts, they labored in vain. During the war petitions to God were unceasing, including a Proclamation of the Continental Congress in 1777 which called for a national day of prayer on December 18th:
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Men who are struggling in the present to build a future, do well always to seek the assistance of God who reigns for Eternity. John Adams saw it that way when he wrote to his wife Abigail after the resolution declaring America independent was passed by the Continental Congress on July 2, 1776:
But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.