Sunday, July 03, 2011
Independence Day 2011 and Beyond
This is a holiday I make sure to observe - I must, as I take most seriously the ideas spawned by the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4th 1776. (Sadly, a recent survey reveals a portion of the American public is deeply confused and unaware of what the document and the day signifies - though, it could be said the fundamental claims of humanity's self-determination and freedom is of significant size and scope as to overwhelm the minds of 1776 and those of today as well.) The survey's results reveal that "Only 58% of residents know that the United States declared its independence in 1776. 26% are unsure, and 16% mentioned another date."
It was and it is a Revolutionary Document.
The claims it makes are as challenging to the status quo today as they were when it was issued. The second sentence, considered as the opening of the Preamble, marks a unique moment in human history - it claims and expresses a powerful idea, that no one person has rights greater than another, but that each of every person has not only rights but that this fact is indisputable to the point it does not require any proof from those who claim it. It's beyond bold - it is inspiring and will continue to be for the rest of human history.
"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."
It was clear to me when I read that as a young boy there were unintended realities here, since the men who signed the Declaration had slaves, and that they considered women as having less rights - but the truth claimed by that sentence provided rights to every human born, and that truth is as powerful today as it was then.
No king or queen, no landowner, no religious leader, no master, no one is born above or below one another, and that idea continues to shake the foundations of society today.
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote much of that document, said in a letter in 1825 that the document " ... was intended to be an expression of the American mind."
The document also contains a basic reality about government too - that it exists as an agreement between the governed and the government, and that the governed have the right to create and remake government as they see fit. And it's that reality, that we create the social systems which we deem as the best guardians and protectors of our basic, individual rights, which we are constantly reviewing and reconsidering and places authority in our hands, not in the hands of others who can never be questioned or challenged. And also, it is worth noting that the claim of rights isn't really limited to simply Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, but that there are other rights too, which we, as free men and women, will and can claim with absolute certainty. Even today, some 235 years after this document was presented, humans struggle still to claim just those three basic rights.
Yet, still, our Declaration has altered the world which we live in, and when we understand the ideas expressed, we become better - for it provides not just for ourselves, but for all humans, now and in the numberless years of life ahead for all. It remains a document which can educate and enlighten us all.
So I hope you, dear readers, pause to consider the vast ideas in our claims of Independence and share them and celebrate them and even explore what those ideas mean.
Happy Independence Day!