Today’s unrest, like unrest in the past, provides an opportunity for citizens to hearken to the divine discontent embedded in the heart of the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence was a call to a cause worthy of pledging “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.” Thomas Paine said, “It is not a field of a few acres of ground, but a cause, that we are defending, and whether we defeat the enemy in one battle, or by degrees, the consequences will be the same.”
The cause of liberty, the cause of equality, the cause of opportunity are all worthy of citizens’ individual and collective pursuit.
The Declaration of Independence is a defining document that sparked the pursuit of liberty and fanned the flame of freedom in America. The document itself is primarily a detailed list of grievances the colonists had against King George and the British crown.
Yet, in the midst of the litany of complaints, the phrase “all men are created equal” makes a stunning and transcendent appearance.
That declaration, within the Declaration, launched a national soul-conflicting conversation, that continues today. It isn’t a question of the sincerity of the statement or the verity of the values. Rather, the question is how to bring individual and national attitudes and behavior into alignment with the ideals America professes to believe.
George W. Bush called the American people to courage when he said, “Recognizing and confronting our history is important. Transcending our history is essential. We are not limited by what we have done, or what we have left undone. We are limited only by what we are willing to do.”
In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.” He continued, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”
Dismantling racism, prejudice and injustice will not happen through the dismantling of the imperfect and inspired founders or destroying the founding documents. It will happen through building bridges of understanding, justice, friendship and opportunity.
President Woodrow Wilson declared on July 4, 1914, at Independence Hall, that, “liberty does not consist, my fellow citizens, in mere general declarations of the rights of man. It consists in the translation of those declarations into definite action.”
The application of the words of the Declaration of Independence is incumbent on each individual America to carry out every day. It has been so from the very beginning.
There is hope for America. The late columnist Charles Krauthammer most accurately defined why the country is worth celebrating, writing, “America is the only country ever founded on an idea. The only country that is not founded on race or even common history. It’s founded on an idea and the idea is liberty. That is probably the rarest phenomena in the political history of the world; this has never happened before. And not only has it happened, but it’s worked. We are the most flourishing, the most powerful, most influential country on Earth with this system, invented by the greatest political geniuses probably in human history.”
Hope for America has nothing to do with which politician declares he or she is the leader, which political party controls Congress, who sits on the Supreme Court or who occupies the Oval Office — it has everything to do with who is sitting in the living rooms, classrooms, waiting rooms and community meeting rooms of the country.
The magic of America is not housed in the halls of Congress, memorialized in a majestic monument, displayed in military might or stored in a secure vault. The magic of America is found within ordinary people who do extraordinary things each day.
We concur with Dr. King in his Nobel Prize speech: “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.”
On this July 4, we say the Declaration’s ideals of liberty and equality are still worth celebrating. The shortcomings of our actions and attitudes are worth evaluating. The principles and policies that will guide the nation are worth debating. The hopeful future of the nation is worth contemplating. That is why, despite America’s faltering steps on the road to its potential, it is still the model freedom-seeking people around the world are emulating.
Together, we can ensure that America remains freedom’s last best hope on earth.