“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Those words begin the Declaration of Independence. The holiday we call Independence Day or the Fourth of July is to honor the adoption of that document and all that came after it. Yet how many Americans recognize the words in that first paragraph?
These words in the second paragraph are more familiar: “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.”
There is a lot of meaning in those 55 words. Nearly 250 years later, we’re still arguing over what they mean to us today and what they will mean to the next generation.
So what would John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and the 52 other signers of the Declaration of Independence think of these United States of America today? Undoubtedly they would be proud of some things they see and dismayed at others. They would marvel at the technological achievements Americans have given the world. Their opinions would be mixed on our cultural achievements, what with “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County” anchoring opposite ends of that spectrum, with “Spongebob Squarepants” somewhere near the middle.
They would see a nation with great attributes and great faults. We’re nowhere near perfect, but we do make progress from time to time. And we regress sometimes, too.
The Declaration of Independence closes with, “And for the support of this 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.”
Note “to each other.” Independence Day is a holiday for all Americans — not only for presidents, our war dead, laborers, veterans or other groups. It’s a day to celebrate our past and our future. To honor the principles this nation was founded on while becoming a better people.
Amid the fireworks and the cookouts and the reunions and all else that goes with a three-day weekend, we need to keep that in mind. The United States of America is a work in progress. It’s far from finished. It may take another 245 years, so let’s keep trying today, tomorrow and onward.