Today we citizens of the United States celebrate 236 years of freedom & independence as a sovereign nation as we commemorate 56 men signed The Declaration of Independence. This document was to influence another great document of American history, the Constitution penned just 12 years later. However, the mere signing of a document does not & cannot bestow such freedom. Freedom has never been & will never be free; there is always a price to be paid by someone somewhere.
Not only did the Declaration of Independence declare our national separation from England, it was also a declaration of open rebellion & war. Its signateurs were considered rebellious traitors to the crown; they were to be immediately executed for treason in the event of capture. As of this date in 1776 the colonies had already had been essentially at war with British troops for over a year & the people in our young nation were strongly divided between those loyal to the king of England & those wanting independence from the same. The revolutionary war would go on another 7 years in which many died; some 35,000 combatants & an unknown number of noncombatants. Additionally, our nation has fought in several wars with even larger death tolls since to maintain our freedom since then. Thanks to the foresight & courage of our nation’s founding fathers, the great American experiment with democracy has resulted in our nation’s citizens enjoying civil & constitutional rights without equal throughout the world.
Much myth has arisen & is now being taught as history regarding the founding of our nation & the founding fathers. Many consider the founding fathers to be original thinkers in the penning of these documents. In actuality they were not. The formation of our country was the result of a number of renaissance movements starting around 1070 AD culminating in the Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) which coincided with the founding of the United States. I find this date interesting given the occurrence of the Great Schism between the Greek East & Latin West in 1054 AD. It is almost as if once separated from communion with the Mystical Theology of the Greek East, there was nothing to hinder the Latin West’s religious & social decline as Western theology drifted further & further from the Holy Tradition of the early Church Fathers.
The renaissance of the 12th century was access in the West to Eastern Greek texts in the sciences & philosophy. Out of this time grew a new method of learning, scholasticism which adopted almost exclusively Aristotelian logic & philosophy. The scholastic method focused on empiricism (evidence through experimentation) & supporting Roman Catholic doctrines through classical & secular study, reason, & logic. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is considered the ultimate example of Scholasticism.
From the renaissance of the 14th-17th centuries a new worldview arose—humanism which originally was an approach to learning in reaction to the strictly utilitarian scholasticism. Humanism’s original focus was one of education of the citizenry in the humanities (liberal arts) so that they might be more active in their communities & promote higher morals & values. Interestingly, most early humanists were Roman Catholic clergy & there was no rejection of religious ideals or institutions. It should be noted that as humanism arose so did Protestantism which incorporated humanism’s mindset as it did. By the end of the renaissance humanism had been transformed into a number of varieties, such as Christian humanism, religious humanism, & secular humanism. In all of its forms the focus had become the needs, interests & abilities of humanity. Humanity no longer had need of the Christian God or Christ, or even any God for that matter, in order to be moral & ethical beings. Humanity would soon be determining its own moral & ethical standards.
At the time of America’s founding, our founding fathers had great optimism in the ability of humanity to determine its own path & attend to its own fulfillment. The Enlightenment saw & focused on implementing the ideals of the renaissance & humanism into the society & culture of the people. European monarchies began to be rejected & stripped of power as the lower classes united with intellectuals to change their culture & society. They were replaced by constitutional monarchies, becoming national figureheads in essence, with power & control of the nation under some sort of parliamentary body. In America there was no monarch to overthrow, although the early fathers sought to form a monarchy. The idea was rejected & a republican form of government with democratic elections was formed instead. The rest, shall we say, is history!