The men who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, knew they could be issuing their death warrant.
Their motley Continental Army of professional soldiers and ragtag colonists - often underfunded, underfed and underclothed -?faced the most powerful military in the world.
But the colonists were armed with a powerful idea. "The Declaration of Independence was the Revolution," says Fulton County historian Peter Betz.
It declared a principle that was subversive to the centuries-old tradition that one person or one group should rule a whole people, giving the people little or no voice in their government. "The Declaration said man's rights are inherent and God-given and do not come from government," Betz points out.
The Declaration went on further to say that we the people created the government to secure our rights and we could alter or abolish it. King George III could not take that lying down, and so the war began.
This revolution resulted in a new nation with a constitution that guaranteed the rights of the people. What's more this idea of government by the people has spread throughout the world, beating back repeatedly the return of the old tyrannies. Setting people free to pursue happiness has blessed the world with more technological advancement and prosperity than previous ages could have imagined. That's why we should never be ashamed of being Americans. Whatever our flaws, they have been and are amendable.
So whatever we plan to do on the Fourth - a parade, a picnic, or just watching fireworks on TV with the kids?- we should be grateful for the courage and brilliance of the people who founded our nation.
One other thing. The founders were taking a big gamble when they believed the people could be trusted to govern themselves better than a monarch. This means we are the masters of the government, and how we choose determines what we get.
After the convention that wrote the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government was created. He replied with this challenge: "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."