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The Fourth of July has always celebrated the right to life but did so especially this year after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. That’s because it’s the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which from the start recognized the humanity of unborn life.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote what he considered the most obvious rights of mankind:
“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.”
From the beginning, this referred to children, born and unborn.
As one signer of the Declaration, John Witherspoon, put it, “Some nations have given parents the power of life and death over their children and Hobbes insists that children are the goods and absolute property of their parents … But both these seem ill founded.”
James Wilson, one of the original justices nominated to the Supreme Court by President George Washington, saw the right to life extending to the unborn. He references the primitive science of the day in the 1790s:
“With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb,” he wrote. “By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.”
From the beginning, we have celebrated the right to life on every Independence Day.
The first Independence Day celebration was held in 1977 in Philadelphia. John Adams didn’t know who organized it, but he wrote to his daughter about the city being lit up by candles in windows. He said the day should be celebrated “as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God.”
The holiday grew from there. I love the account of a 19th-century celebration of the holiday that Laura Ingalls Wilder gives in her autobiographical Little Town on the Prairie.
Little Laura watched a politician on a bandstand who said, “It’s Fourth of July, and on this day somebody’s got to read the Declaration of Independence. It looks like I’m elected, so hold your hats, boys; I’m going to read it.”
But Laura comments: “Laura and Carrie knew the Declaration of Independence by heart.” After the speech, Pa leads the crowd in singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” and “Laura had a thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind and she thought: God is America’s king. Americans are free.”
That vision of America is what Catholics believe too.
St. John Paul II said, “The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain ‘self-evident’ truths about the human person: truths which could be discerned in human nature, built into it by nature’s God.”
He quoted John Dickinson, Chairman of the Committee for the Declaration of Independence, who said in 1776: “Our liberties … come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth”
He said at Baltimore: “I say to you again, America, in the light of your own tradition: love life, cherish life, defend life, from conception to natural death.”
St. Teresa of Kolkata delivered the same message at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. “The unborn was the first one to proclaim the coming of Christ,” she said.
“I will tell you something beautiful, she added. “We are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: ‘Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.’ So we always have someone tell the mothers in trouble: ‘Come, we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child.’”
That message is perfect for Independence Day 2022.
She concluded, “From here, a sign of care for the weakest of the weak — the unborn child — must go out to the world. If you become a burning light of justice and peace in the world, then really you will be true to what the founders of this country stood for.”