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A River Fed By Many Streams

An essay by Wilfred M. McClay

There is a long tradition of debating the right to resistance: What aspects of that tradition were most influential in forming the Declaration mindset?

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This Month's Further Reading and Listening

As A Call to Liberty begins, we offer you a set of lively historical essays on the first two pamphlets of the 400+ items in the Pamphlet Debate on the American Question, 1764-1776, edited for us by Jack Greene. Explore a podcast on the American Founding from AdamSmithWorks with guest Darren Staloff, and consider adding our edition of Samuel Johnson’s Political Writings to your library.

Letter from the Editors

I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not. 

–John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776 

John Adams knew that the success of the American colonies’ quest for independence was not guaranteed. His letter to Abigail Adams, written one day after the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain, is both elated and frightened by the bold decision that he and the other Founders had taken. 

It is hard, now, to recapture the precariousness of the Declaration, the bravery of those who would sign it on August 2nd, and the audacity of those who, like Adams, could look at that single sheet of paper and envision a nation and a posterity. It is certainly true that the Declaration was a political document drafted for the urgent needs of a moment, but it came to represent something far greater: a reminder of the high ideals that animated our nation’s founding and a recurring source of inspiration for all those who would defend liberty. 

Most Americans think of the Declaration of Independence–when we think of it at all–as a document that exists in order to be quoted, or carved on the walls of memorials, or perhaps read in stentorian tones by a public official to begin a 4th of July parade. We certainly do not think of it as something that is worth a price of “Toil and Blood and Treasure.” Nor do we often contemplate the mindset that led the signatories to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.”  

A Call to Liberty is a two year project that strives to reawaken interest in and respect for the Declaration of Independence as we approach its 250th anniversary. Every month we will bring you a slate of fresh content and a selection of historical pamphlets that explore questions related to important themes from the Declaration, and consider them in relation to our past, our present, and our future. 

New This Month 

For July 2024, Wilfred McClay offers us an essay on several of the strands of political and religious thought that underlie the Declaration. Martine Brownley, Susan Brynne Long, Will Hay, and Bradley Birzer consider Samuel Johnson’s inflammatory pamphlet Taxation no Tyranny and a selection of the many pamphlets published in outraged response to Johnson. We also invite you to explore related material from Liberty Fund’s other websites.

Countdown to the Declaration

New material every month as we explore the Declaration's past, present, and future.

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months to go

24

Liberty v. Tyranny

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A River Fed By Many Streams

There is a long tradition of debating the right to resistance: What aspects of that tradition were most influential in forming the Declaration mindset?

Published July 2024

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Education

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What kind of education is necessary for a citizenry that takes the Declaration seriously?

Coming in August 2024

22

Law & Constitutionalism

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Does the Declaration offer us any permanent guidance in thinking constitutionally?

Coming in September 2024

21

Equality

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Writing a Declaration that could secure support required compromises and negotiations: How did these compromises chart the course of, or delay the recognition of equality for coming generations?

Coming in October 2024

20

Political Institutions

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Does technology fundamentally alter the basis for representative government? Does it give us cause to reconsider the principles of the Declaration?

Coming in November 2024

19

Philosophy & Theology

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How important are religious and Enlightenment ideas to the concepts in the Declaration? Are these influences necessarily in conflict?

Coming in December 2024

July 2026
250th Anniversary

Find the full list of months, including archived and upcoming themes, on our Countdown page.

We are a private educational foundation that encourages thought and discussion of enduring issues about liberty.

Liberty Fund offers a rich set of educational programs. These include Socratic-style conferences, thought-provoking books, and engaging online resources focused on the understanding and appreciation of the complex nature of a free and responsible society.