The Texas Veterans Land Board celebrates today, the Fourth of July, as our Independence Day. We salute all our Military Members here and abroad, who keep the mission of today alive worldwide. In 1776, several members of the Continental Congress, notably future Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were appointed to a committee to create a statement for the separation of the colonies from Great Britain. Mostly written by Jefferson, the resulting declaration was presented to Congress on July 2.
John Adams was so excited that he wrote to his wife that the date of July 2 “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 forevermore.” He was so close to being correct.
Congress made a few edits (86 to be exact) to the declaration the following day, and on July 4, 1776, the final version was accepted. That’s why this date has become famous and we celebrate it in thousands of cities across the United States with concerts, fireworks and more, just as John Adams had predicted.
The words of the Declaration of Independence have been used, most effectively by Abraham Lincoln, to discuss the evolution of America toward its promise for all. The opening words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” obviously did not apply to everyone in 1776. However, it was a startlingly radical idea even to write it in the 18th century, and over the past 245 years, America has expanded its understanding of those words and applied them to more and more citizens.
In 1776, it really only referred to voting as a privilege of white men with property. That changed to all white men in the 1830s. Then all men, regardless of color, gained the right to vote in 1870 with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. That was followed in 1920 with the 19th Amendment, which added women of all color to the mix. Then in the 1960s, as a result of the draft for the Vietnam War, people 18 and older were included in voting as a result of the 26th Amendment.
As far as other forms of equality go, this country has moved more towards those over time as well. Not just voting, but true equality under the law. Today there are laws that protect workers, renters, people of color and people with disabilities from discrimination, just to mention a few. The trend in the United States has not been toward oppression of minorities but against it. Equality has expanded in concentric circles from the point of origination of those radical words, “all men are created equal”.
We actually saw this in the military before it happened in the general public. In 1948, years before the Civil Rights Movement was changing policy, the military was integrated. By the 1980s, the Armed Forces were a multiracial, multicultural force. And that force pressured society at that time to recognize multiracial equality.
So today, when you see your fireworks and hear your stirring patriotic music, think on those words and how America is living up to them. While not perfect, this country does work hard to ensure equality for all, and we continue to make it more perfect over time. The Veterans Land Board celebrates our shared history and shared pursuit of perfection. Happy Independence Day!
If you are a Veteran, thank you for your service. Click Here to Sign Up to stay informed on your benefits with the Texas Veterans Land Board.