Today is the most American of our holidays. Each July 4th, we spend the day celebrating our nation by eating, drinking, watching baseball, playing in the pool and buying things. We cap the day off by watching things blow up. Here in the Philadelphia region, hundreds of thousands will gather on a plot of ground named for one of the greatest patriots in our history, Ben Franklin, and listen to music and watch fireworks.Reflection is not a particularly American process. We fancy ourselves as "do-ers," the kind of folks who get things done, not the kind who sit around thinking about the past. This, in a sentence, explains a great deal about our foreign policy.
Today is a day that deserves some reflection. It was on this date. after a stifling late spring and early summer of political dealing in Philadelphia, that a group of white men announced that they had decided that the former American colonies of Great Britain were now a separate nation. In that most famous of American sentences, Thomas Jefferson wrote that:
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.
The document they published on this day in 1776 borrowed heavily from the work of French and English and French philosophers, but the process that took to creating a nation was American at its heart. Deals were cut in smoky back rooms and taverns. Those who disagreed were tossed out and arrested. What we celebrate today as a great time of national unity was in fact really a tipping point, a moment in time where the inertia of loyalism was overcome by the fervor of revolution and a new nation struggled into being. Thousands celebrated in the streets, but still others packed their things and shuttered their businesses, heading 'home' to England.Noting the split that was in the air is important I think. Though all of the internal strife, we came together as a people and as a nation. Certainly it helped that there was tyranny to fight. A great enemy makes it easy to unite. It would take years to allow this nation to stand on its own, and even then, there would be problems. It would take nearly a century to begin to address the omissions of the founders.
Another war would be needed to give black Americans the beginnings of freedom in America. After fifty more years of complex social struggle, women would be recognized as more than property. 234 years after "all men" were declared "equal" we are still struggling with recognizing the right of any person to love and marry another.
America is imperfect. But she is the greatest imperfect nation ever created. And while we still struggle to rise to the high ideals the drafters of the Declaration of Independence set forth for us, there is an immense amount here that I am very proud to be a part of. The Declaration is an aspirational document, one that each of us has a responsibility to seek to work to each day.Go forth ans enjoy the great beauty of this country today, gather freely and express your freedom as you see fit. And remember the struggles it took to ensure those rights for you. And especially those who do not yet enjoy them.
Happy 234th birthday America!