Advocating for American independence, Thomas Paine wrote, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
And indeed, on July 4, 1776, that’s exactly what our Founders did. By signing the Declaration of Independence, they established a break from England and gave birth to a new nation.
Cataloging King George’s many and horrific abuses, the Founders did what they felt they had to do in order to secure their own rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Only a total and complete break from England would give them the opportunity to do that.
Throwing off the yoke of what had become a tyrannous rule, 56 brave men risked death for themselves and terrible retribution upon the colonies should their endeavor fail. They knew the violence they were calling down upon themselves, once King George’s army arrived to crush their rebellion. They knew there was no guarantee that their effort would succeed. Yet they were willing to take that risk, in order to establish the right of Americans to govern our own lives...not only then, but forever.
Today, we too often take our rights for granted. And a right that is taken for granted, too easily becomes a right that is taken away.
July 4 should be a day of mindful, not mindless celebration. It’s a day to look back at what was courageously created in the past, in order to claim the courage to create a more powerful future. America is still, despite our weaknesses, the container for the most powerful idea on earth: that all things are possible, that the future does not have to be like the past, and we all have the right to live as we wish to live.
John Adams, the second President of the United States, said he hoped our national birthday would be a day when Americans of every generation revisited America’s first principles –reminding ourselves and our children why freedom matters.
As a recent Congressional candidate, I was reminded every day during my campaign how fortunate we are to live in a country where I could say whatever I wanted to say about our government, point out whatever I felt needed to be pointed out, and no one had the right to stop me. Read any newspaper story today and you’re reminded of all the places in the world where such honest reflection is not allowed, not possible, or even punishable by death.
So today, on July 4, let’s celebrate with more than a bar-b-que. Let’s celebrate with deep and humble gratitude for the extraordinary gift that was given us on this day 238 years ago. Obviously, the Founders didn’t create a perfect system. But they began the process, in an amazing way. It’s now ours – as the stewards of democracy in our own generation – to continue to carry the process forward. To make it better, as best we can.