Just a few days ago I was in Washington DC where I visited the National Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence. It was featured alongside the U.S. Constitution and other historical documents in the dimly lit rotunda. It was amazing to see our founding documents in person. Yet I had trouble deciphering the words. Centuries had taken their toll on the parchment and the ink was fading.
I couldn’t help but think that just as our founding political document is fading, so is our understanding of what this nation is about. Even as we celebrate our 243rd birthday of independence today, fireworks and backyard barbecues overshadow gratitude and solemn reflection owed to the men who pledged “their lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to give us the freedom we enjoy today.
The Founding Fathers outlined “a long train of abuses”of a tyrannical King who trampled their rights. So they appealed to the “Supreme Judge of the world,”relied upon “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” and asserted their independence. Upon signing the Declaration, every one of the 56 signers were committing high treason. Benjamin Franklin told his fellow revolutionaries after they signed it “We must, indeed, all hang together or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
The soul-stirring theme of our nation is captured by these 56 words: “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…”. This is the American creed.
America is an idea that’s the envy of the world, even if too many native-born sons and daughters bathed in liberty have taken it for granted. Last year, there were around 750,000 pending applications for U.S. citizenship. This was nearly double the number in 2014. How many other nations have foreigners waiting in line to become citizens?
The late Peter Schramm was one of those immigrants who cherished America. His family fled communist-dominated Hungary after the failed 1958 uprising. When his father told him they were going to America, Peter asked, why America? “Because son, we were born Americans but in the wrong place,” his father said.
Schramm was the founding president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and devoted his life to teaching the principles of American freedom. Perhaps this was because he valued his freedom more than most of us.
Yet, it is in vogue to denounce America for past wrongs. Colin Kaepernick calling out Nike for including the colonial flag on a new line of shoes is the latest. But it’s a stretch to say the colonial flag represented an era of slavery, as Kaepernick purportedly suggested in a private conversation with Nike execs, instead of independence and liberty.
Atonement has been made for America’s original sin of slavery. Other national warts and blemishes have been on display for all to see but we’ve worked through our issues—and are still working on them. How many nations allow open criticism of the government and their policies? How many nations afford citizens a voice, the right to assemble, and a free press?
Revisionist attempts notwithstanding, we’re losing a collective understanding of what we have in this gift we call America. Namely, that God gives us our rights; that government’s duty is to protect our inalienable rights; that we’re free to develop our gifts and talents and pursue our calling; that we can create and pass on wealth to our children; and live under the rule of law.
These are American ideals that binds every one of us together despite our racial or ethnic lineage. And these things are worth celebrating on our national birthday today.