I'll have to admit that the Fourth of July inspires mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, I believe that the ideals that inspired this country's revolutionary period and their legacy have proven to be a viable political philosophy we've known in terms of producing a great amount of freedom for a great number of people. That's true both here and abroad; numerous nations have staged their own revolutions against oppressive regimes while invoking the rhetoric of liberal republicanism. On the other hand, I am often distressed by the failure of the U. S. to live up to the extraordinary promise embodied in its Declaration of Independence, both throughout its history and today. In short, I find disturbing our nation's history of failing to extend the rights that Thomas Jefferson--himself a brilliant and profoundly striking example of the nation's contradictory impulses--wrote so eloquently about in the Declaration to the various marginalized segments of our populace. I'm also often dismayed by our tendency to countenance overseas imperial acts that also contradict principles that we deeply hold.
However, I think the Fourth is an appropriate moment to remind ourselves that the legacy of the Founding Fathers insures us of a number of important rights, perhaps most importantly the right to government by consent of the governed. Indeed, my right to question the nation's history in the way that I just did hinges upon this right. Remember the words of Jefferson in the Declaration:
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, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
Has the history of the U. S. always lived up to the promise embodied in these words? I would say no. Does human nature even suggest that it would be possible to do so? Probably not. At any rate, these words continue to compel us because they inspire us to continue to work for a better nation. Indeed, they entitle us to do so. Not all political organizations have ensured such a right. We should be happy that we live under one that does. The promise insured by such rights is enough to make me happy I'm a citizen of this nation.
I could write all day about this, but in the service of my time and yours, I'll keep it short: Happy Fourth of July. And go read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Remind yourself of the debt we owe to these documents.