In crafting the Declaration of Independence from June 11-28 in 1776, Thomas Jefferson composed lofty prose for one of the world's most influential documents -- a celebration of liberty unmatched in history. Jefferson's masterpiece captured the convictions of the American people then, settlers intent on founding a nation based on "self-evident truths" free of the tyranny of a monarchy interested in treasure and subjugation.
When armed hostilities broke out between the American colonists and British forces in April 1775, independence was not the end game. The colonists fought to assert their rights as British subjects.
Then in August 1775, King George III declared the colonies "engaged in open and avowed rebellion" and later in the year his Parliament passed legislation that placed all American ships and cargoes forfeit to the monarchy.
The Second Continental Congress, first assembled in May 1775 after the king ignored the petition for redress of grievances from the First Continental Congress, began severing ties to the British crown.
But even then, the colonies remained conflicted, and on June 11, 1776 -- the very day Jefferson began his historic task -- consideration of independence was delayed by a vote of seven colonies to five with one abstention.
Decades later, Jefferson acknowledged that he had been pressured by a handful of other Founding Fathers to proceed with drafting a declaration. Benjamin Franklin and John Adams made a few changes, and after Congress made some others, the document -- far and away mostly attributable to Jefferson -- was adopted on July 4, 1776.
The 13 colonies-- the fledgling United States of America -- legally severed ties to Great Britain two days before, July 2, and the resolution of independence served as a statement explaining the decision.
Indeed, a large part of the document outlines a litany of tyrannical offenses committed by the British monarch.
Just as today's political landscape is highly polarized, with Congress incapable of agreement on the pressing issues of our time, history shows Americans were often divided over the nation's course -- even in seeking independence more than two centuries ago.
But once united in a common cause, our forefathers prevailed in a difficult struggle.
America faces great challenges once again, but we lack the leadership to accept our political differences and find common ground. We should look to our past for inspiration to move forward.
One particular Jeffersonian statement in the Declaration of Independence continues to serve as one of America's great guiding principles:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Today, let us celebrate our independence as one nation. With gratitude for the guardians of our freedoms -- our military. And for all our various first responders, who protect and serve as well.