“But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations… This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” 

— John Adams, 1818 

As we prepare for our annual July 4th festivities, basking in the warm glow of fireworks that light the night sky, let us take a moment to reflect on the light of America’s most explosive and emblematic document, the Declaration of Independence.  

Penned by Thomas Jefferson, refined by John Adams, and realized through the discerning insights of Benjamin Franklin, the Declaration represents not only the historic moment when the American Revolution first announced itself on the world stage but the culmination of a century or more of Enlightenment thought that is still reshaping the world.  

Franklin’s most notable alteration — replacing "sacred and undeniable" with "self-evident" — still explodes like a dazzling firework show in the night sky of human thought.  

What profound insight! The “sacred and undeniable” was no longer confined to esoteric doctrines propagated by earthly authorities through religion, ritual, tradition, law, and authority.  

Instead, each man’s role in the cosmos and society was now to be gleaned by each man’s conscience, guided by the light of the logos.  

Truths such as “all men are created equal in the image and likeness of God” were no longer rhetorical cudgels for preachers to pound pulpits or dubious texts to be cynically interpreted by church lawyers to uphold some self-serving authority. No, they were now common-sense, practical facts as easily discernible as “2 plus 2 equals 4” and just as readily available to each and every man to claim as his political birthright.  

No longer would individual man’s natural liberties be decided by the arbitrary whims of profane authority. Instead, they would be decided by an appeal to eternal and sacred principles, independent of the whims of any manmade government. A government of laws and not men, at least according to the American Revolution, first rests on the recognition and respect of laws not made by men, but applicable and discoverable to any man who investigates Nature and Nature’s God in good faith. 

This July 4th, let us remember that humanity’s highest ideals can only shine through the burst and flame of individual conscience. Try as we may to shake or shirk our most profound personal responsibilities, individual men can never escape the necessity and fate of their own judgment — they must wrestle with and shape their own principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections.  

Man did not create the world, but he was created with the natural liberty to choose how to live in it and what to make of his place. Man may choose to burn brightly with self-evident passion for things he discovers to be sacred and undeniable — even at the risk of scalding himself — or he will learn to subsist with clever schemes in the cold shadow of his own depravity, claiming he had “no choice” but to accept sin as his unchosen birthright and to make it his own fallen kingdom.  

Which way will the next chapter of the American revolution go? What way will men choose?  

Whichever way, let us pray that man’s liberty remains self-evident to him.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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