Every July 4th we celebrate the establishment of our nation and the values that created it. The freedoms that our inspired founders affirmed in the Declaration of Independence, and upheld in our Constitution, are the guiding principles of our Republic. The Declaration proclaims, “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 . . .”
In a speech celebrating the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1821, then-Secretary of State and later our nation’s sixth President, John Quincy Adams detailed the context in which our Declaration of Independence took shape and was adopted 45 years earlier on July 4, 1776. His words help make clear how extraordinary the Declaration was and continues to be, “It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. . . . It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people.” It was at the root of the formation of our government and reflected the principles upon which our nation was founded.
It has bound us together as Americans with the expectation that all people should be treated with dignity and set us apart as inheritors of a tremendous legacy that stands as an example to the world. These principles are our guidance, through times of challenge and accord. They are our standard to keep and our charge to reflect. Renowned abolitionist Frederick Douglass said it well, “The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.” In that speech about the 4th of July given on its 76th anniversary, he spoke of the bravery of the drafters of the Declaration in standing up against oppression, recognized the inconsistency of slavery with the liberties of our nation’s foundation and called on Americans to uphold the principles of the Declaration for all.
On July 4th, we celebrate our nation’s independence and the extraordinary principles declared by our founders, but safeguarding of our liberties and adherence to those principles is a constant responsibility. The sacrifices made in establishing our liberties and that continue in pursuit of these liberties require that we must never take our independence for granted or lose sight of the exceptionalism of American ideals, rooted in our self-governance.