Today, we celebrate the 233rd “birthday” of our country. It is an auspicious day, one that our Founding Fathers felt would be celebrated in perpetuity with games, ceremony, and fireworks. I think that if they were among us today, they would be pleased that the quintessential July 4th celebration is a cookout with family and friends, and then watching fireworks together as a community.
However, one thing that we tend not to do (like so many other times) is ponder the words that propelled that generation – THE Greatest Generation (with all due respect to the other Greatest Generation) to fight a desperate war for five (more) long years against one of the world’s superpowers, and more to the point, against what many considered to be their countrymen. I think that, especially in the times we live in, it is important to hear those words with renewed thoughtfulness:
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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to altar or abolish it, and institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
There was nothing really earth-shattering about the ideas reflected above when they were written. They had been around for many years, some would say thousands. What was (and remains) earth-shattering was that for the first time, these ideas would become the foundation, the bedrock, of a new society and new form of government.
Many would argue that we, as a country, have never lived up to its promise. In many ways, they are right – our country has failed many times to live up to those ideals. The unfortunate part is that, because of our unique ability for self-flagellation, many people focus so much on the failings of America that they do not (or choose not) to see the good of America. If for nothing else, this country has given mankind the true understanding of the relationship between the individual and the state. We do not exist for the state – the state exists for us. The ideas promulgated in the Declaration resonate throughout the world.
In the times we live in, the words contained in the Declaration have become all the more important. I think that, if Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and the rest of their generation were here among us, they would be very disappointed with us. I suspect many of them would wonder why we let government become a more and more intrusive part of our lives, and how we have allowed a political class to be formed that, for all intents and purposes, does not serve the general Welfare, but their own narrow interests.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
They understood what it was to live in tumultuous times, so I think they would have a special understanding of ours. I also think that they would wonder amongst themselves when we would decide we had had enough. They would probably counsel that the American people had thrown off one yoke already, but that the beauty of the system they left us was that, instead of having to pick up a rifle to change the system, we have but to pick up a pen (or in many cases, an electronic polling booth).
I think that they would scoff at the idea that government has to solve all of our problems for us, rather than us solving them for ourselves. I suspect that they had had quite enough of government solutions, thank you, and would wonder why we are content to allow the same. In their eyes, the government was often by and large the problem, and that any so-called solutions offered by it would lead to more of the same.
So, on this commemoration of the signing of that most auspicious document, let us all look at it with renewed understanding of its promises and our responsibility to help uphold them. Let us also work with renewed vigor to try and restore our government to its rightful place, not as our lord and master, but as our servant. And let us all try to live our lives, as Americans, as the founders wrote at the end of the Declaration:
And for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.