|Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net ID-10042229|
We celebrate on a grand scale - it is a federal holiday and there are events all weekend at the Mall in Washington, D.C., at Liberty Hall in Philadelphia, at the Charlestown Navy Yard and Harbor in Boston, and in most major cities. The day's events often culminate with a concert and fireworks display (two of the most famous - the Boston Pops and the Capitol Fourth - are shown live on television). We celebrate on a local scale with parades, festivals, rodeos, revolutionary war-era reenactments, baseball games, classic movies, scavenger hunts, concerts, picnics, barbecues, carnivals, fairs, family reunions, political speeches and ceremonies, and local and individual fireworks displays.
But what exactly are we celebrating? We commemorate July 4, 1776 as the date when a small band of the men finished the work of writing, arguing, persuading, rewriting, and finally encouraging each other to come to agreement on a 1,337 word document that took a stand and told their sovereign king "thanks but no thanks - we have had enough, you don't listen, you don't respect us, you don't treat us right - we don't want to work it out, we want to break up (oh, and it is you, not us!)."
And so began the long, hard struggle for independence. Although Great Britain's heavy-handed actions (unfair taxes as well as refusing to allow real representation or self-governing) had brought matters to a political standoff between the British government and the colonists, it is one thing to complain - and quite another thing to act on it. In fact we now know that many of the colonists thought the British government would understand the seriousness of their position and finally work out more reasonable governance. However, the colonists found out that Great Britain had no intention of listening to them and no interest in walking away from their investment in land and resources, and so that final break was made. Since the winners get to write history, that little matter of treason is often forgotten. But it is important to understand what our forefathers said and wrote, what they were willing to fight and die for, and what they wanted their fellow countrymen to embrace.
Today many focus on the Declaration as being about individuals and recall only 7 words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to the exclusion of the other 1,330 words. But a serious reading of the Declaration shows the larger and true meaning of this document. Today is the perfect day for Americans and those all around the world to read the expertly crafted Declaration of Independence in its entirety and put all the words in context. The Declaration has a conclusion (read the last sentence first) with supporting arguments for that conclusion (the rest of the document). The Declaration is about working together to form something bigger than ourselves and our self-interests. All Americans should put Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen on their summer reading list. She provides some food for thought and an opportunity to gain a better understanding of this important document.
Our form of government has never been an easy thing. It took the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Acts to work at getting it right. And that never-ending process continues today. The Declaration and the Constitution are blueprints for where we have been, how we see ourselves (our aspiration or ideals), and how we plan to achieve our ideals. The hard work is in embracing and living up to our ideals not only on July 4th but every day.
|Happy Birthday USA - thanks to the men and women |
who have done the difficult work
throughout our history!
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net ID-10042231