In the American holiday calendar no day is more significant than the Fourth of July, in which we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. That Declaration proclaimed to the world our separation from Great Britain and our emergence as a new sovereign nation, "under God, with liberty and justice for all."
The Declaration stated unequivocally: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, and 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."
Those few words sum up the divine source of our unalienable rights and our philosophy of government. Nothing quite so revolutionary had been proclaimed anywhere by any people. But those beliefs had to be affirmed by a long, bloody war, which was finally won. The result has been this shining light on a hill, the United States of America, the freest, most creative, productive, and richest nation in the history of mankind.
The Beginning of the End for Slavery
Today, the Declaration of Independence is celebrated as the centerpiece of American political philosophy. It clearly spells out the purpose of government, which is to secure our God-given unalienable rights.
But what about slavery, you might ask? Why didn't the liberty-loving Declaration also abolish slavery? First, the Declaration was not a set of laws. It was a statement of principles... and its principles clearly were anti-slavery. However, indentured servitude and slavery were centuries-old worldwide practices that could not be done away with overnight. The truth is that the Declaration did serve as the basis on which slavery was finally abolished in the United States, for it was the Declaration that Lincoln insisted on using in his argument for abolishing what the great Southern statesman Henry Clay called "a foul blot upon our nation."
In the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, Lincoln declared:
There is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...
It should be noted that even though Lincoln abhorred slavery, he was still not ready to accept total social equality. In 1858 most Americans shared Lincoln's views. Maine was the only state in the Union where African-Americans could vote or hold public office. It took the horrible ordeal of the Civil War to speed up the cause of social justice for the ex-slaves. And it took another hundred years to finally get rid of racial segregation. But the leaven of the Declaration's "self-evident truths" finally did work its way so that "all men" could be free.
The Soul of America
It is interesting that we do not celebrate Constitution Day, although the United States Constitution provides the legal framework of our form of representative government. The aim of the framers of the Constitution was to make it as difficult as possible for any person or group of persons to establish a despotic regime over the people of this country. They therefore broke up the government into three branches - Executive, Legislative, and Judicial - in order to disperse power as widely as possible. And they divided the legislature into two bodies: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House of Representatives, representing local Congressional districts, brought the citizen as close to the seat of government as possible. The large states, with their larger number of delegates, could exert power over the smaller states. However, in the Senate the smaller states could exert power over the larger ones. In the Senate, little Rhode Island or Delaware had as much clout as California or New York.
What an ingenious plan to limit the power of government over a free people!
During the last century many in the cultural and political elite favored socialism, a political and economic doctrine contrary to the political beliefs of our Founding Fathers. With all this power and wealth pushing for government control over every area of our lives, for over 100 years, how have we managed to retain so many of our freedoms... and even regain the freedom to homeschool? It's largely owing to the appetite for freedom still spread by the ringing words of the Declaration of Independence.
And that is why we are able to celebrate the Fourth of July - Independence Day - with all the fervor and joy that the American people can muster. We thank the men who gave us our Declaration of Independence, which will remain for future generations of Americans the beacon of liberty, the upholder of our divine unalienable rights, the guardian of our independence. Its words must be written in the hearts and minds of our citizens, so that we never forget the price paid for our freedom... and the reasons why freedom is worth paying the price.