The Fourth of July doesn't fall until mid-week this year, but celebrations of Independence Day have already begun in earnest. How many of the revelers heading to the shore or backyard barbecues will take a few minutes to reflect on the Declaration and what it took to win our independence?

How many will think about the 56 men who labored in Philadelphia in the hottest days of 1776 under conditions that one Founder said "a more merciful God would not allow"?

Of course, we should celebrate American Independence as we do. After all, John Adams told us, through a letter to his wife, Abigail, that "it ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from One End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Adams thought we'd celebrate Independence Day on July 2, the day on which the Continental Congress voted unanimously to sever the 13 colonies' ties with Great Britain. He also believed that the day should be "commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by Acts of Devotion to God Almighty."

It was two days later, July 4, that the Continental Congress actually approved the text of the Declaration.

Because of depictions in movies and Broadway shows, many people think it was signed that day.

However, most of the signatures, including John Hancock's most prominent one, were affixed a couple months later, on August 2. A few others signed after that, among them Eldridge Gerry, about whom we've heard a lot recently. He's the father of the "Gerrymander.

One key player, and a member of the five-person committee that actually drafted the Declaration, Robert Livingston, never signed it, nor did much of his New York delegation. Pennsylvania's John Dickinson refused to sign.

The Declaration of Independence was the catalyst of the ongoing revolution and the freedoms that it encapsulated. It gave birth to a nation that became the envy of the world.

The Declaration itself is loved, honored and revered by Americans and freedom-loving people around the globe. It has formed the basis of similar declarations by several nations. It was the first time that a written statement of grievances against a sovereign, coupled with a declaration of rights, was issued to justify severing ties.

This was truly unique. Prior to the American Revolution, fights for independence elsewhere had been based on local nationalistic interests. Ours was waged over universal human rights.

In the decade between the imposition of the Stamp Act and the Declaration, the colonists had asserted their rights under the English constitution -- to no avail. Thus, they could have chosen to again declare their rights as Englishmen had been denied them and demanded separation as a consequence.

Had they chosen that course, independence might have been won, but it would have meant little to the rest of the world or human history.

Instead the Founders adopted the Declaration of Independence which encapsulates and enshrines fundamental values and principles, often called the "First Principles," upon which our Republic was founded.

For the first time, a new nation declared that the rights of its citizens came from God, not from a sovereign or government. That was truly revolutionary. It was a revolution based on an idea; one that's as important today as it was 242 years ago.

John Adams worried about the future of freedom and the cost of preserving and protecting it. "I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost to maintain this Declaration," he told us.

The Signers of the Declaration all knew what was at stake. Their closing pronouncement was "... with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Many of the signers suffered the hardships to which they alluded. Each of them knew the gallows awaited if the war was not won. All of them laid everything on the line for freedom.

As we enjoy a vacation day of parades, pool parties and cookouts, we should each ask ourselves if we care as much about the defining principles of the Declaration as we do about the fireworks.

We know what the Founders risked. In our comfortable and cozy 21st century lives, do we share the same commitment to liberty?

An old friend of mine had a wonderful Independence Day ritual. Between the morning's parade and the afternoon's picnic, he'd gather his children and grandchildren. Together they take turns reading the Declaration of Independence.

I've always thought we should all do that. Read it. Understand it. Love it. Live it.

PennLive Opinion contributor Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg. His "Donkeys & Elephants" column appears weekly opposite progressive commentator Kirstin Snow.

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