It was on July 4, 1776, that the United States was born, spawned as a result of the work of 55 courageous men from 12 virtually autonomous states who came to Philadelphia 220 years ago in an attempt to replace a loose and fragile Confederation with a strong government. They were politicians, judges, governors, all accountable to the people of their states, and all with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
For a long, hot summer these men debated, fought, argued and compromised, in the end carving out a bold new document designed to secure the blessings of liberty for Americans - a document that was to become a standard of enlightenment the world over.As our nation celebrates still another birthday on July 4, it is these men - most of whom, for their efforts, paid dearly - we must thank for taking the first steps to secure the freedoms that today provide us with untold blessings in our day-to-day living. Here are a few bounties we enjoy in our own "America The Great" to which we might give more thoughtful appreciation:
- The freedom we do enjoy: O. Henry observes: "You never appreciate . . . Old Glory till you see it hanging on a broomstick on the shanty of a consul in a foreign country."
"It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you," observes Dick Cheney, a point embodied in the reflections of an immigrant: "I love America. You know why? It was 1921 I came, alone, on a boat to Baltimore. I stood alone on the dock, so afraid, waiting for my sponsors to `claim' me. Suddenly coming toward me is a big man in a policeman's uniform. My heart pounds, and I fumble for papers. Then he smiles. `Can I help you?,' " he says. Do you know what that meant to me? A country where a policeman says, `Can I help you?' "
Jeane Kirkpatrick comments: "The reason so many people around the world yearn for America is that they see something here which we Americans often lose sight of - because it surrounds us and pervades our society. What they see, that we miss, is our freedom."
And Mark Twain adds: "We are called the nation of inventors. And we are. We could still claim that title and wear its loftiest honors if we had stopped with the first thing we had ever invented - human liberty."
- The opportunities we have: Says Morris Mandel: "When God made the oyster, he guaranteed his absolute economic and social security. He built the oyster a house, his shell, to shelter and protect him from his enemies. When hungry, the oyster simply opens his shell and food rushes in for him. He has freedom from want.
"But when God made the eagle he declared: `The blue sky is the limit - build your own house!' So the eagle built on the highest mountain. Storms threaten him every day. For food he flies through miles of rain and snow and wind. But think of it, the eagle, not the oyster, is the emblem of America."
To be an American means that to create opportunities one must be "tough like an eagle." But "each shall have an equal chance at a chance. This is the essence of American civilization," observes someone anonymously. And says another person, in America we don't have " `the right to happiness,' which doesn't exist, but the right to pursue it."
Adds Harry Lloyd: "I thank God that I live in a country where dreams can come true, where failure sometimes is the first step to success and where success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be."
- Our incredible resources: Some years ago, a Russian woman visiting New York City maintained a stoic "ours is better" attitude throughout a tour of the city. Then she was taken into a supermarket, where her veneer cracked as she stood amid seemingly endless aisles of fresh vegetables, red meat and frozen foods - and wept.
Of our resources, comedian Yakov Smirnoff writes: "Coming from the Soviet Union, I was not prepared for the incredible variety of products available in American grocery stores. While on my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk - you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice - you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder - I thought to myself, What a country!"
- Our freedom of speech: "What's right with America is a willingness
and the opportunityT to discuss what's wrong with America," emphasizes Harry C. Bauer.
"An American," observes Wendell Trogdon, "is a person who demonstrates against a new power plant, then goes home and flips on all the lights, turns up the air conditioner, puts a tape in the stereo, opens the refrigerator door, plugs in the coffee maker and sits down to see if the television cameras caught him protesting."
of speechT," emphasizes Wendell L. Wilkie, "means that if you are a professor, you don't have to alter science or history as a bureaucrat prescribes; if you own a newspaper, you don't limit your editorial opinions to what an official censor approves; if you think your taxes are too high, you can vote against those officials you think responsible."
And it is our right to vote, says Winston Churchill, that lies "at the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy . . . the little man walking into the little booth with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper. No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point."