The Fourth of July is a great opportunity to renew our dedication to the principles of liberty and equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, a document that serves as the birth certificate of America.
The ringing phrases of the Declaration of Independence speak to all who strive for liberty and seek to vindicate the principles of self-government. When asked to prepare a statement on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams delivered two words that still convey our great hope every Fourth of July: “Independence Forever.” The Declaration of Independence publicly announced to the world the unanimous decision of the American colonies to declare themselves free and independent states, absolved from any allegiance to Great Britain. But its greater meaning is a statement of the conditions of legitimate political authority and the proper ends of government.
The Declarations famous second paragraph represents a powerful synthesis of American constitutional and republican government theories, and a delineation of individual rights, especially with its famous first line: 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 Declaration defines the purpose of government and establishes the boundaries in which government can operate. Yet liberals, or progressives, want to move away from these principles and boundaries to grow government. In fact, self-identified progressives argue that we have progressed beyond the principles instilled in the Declaration of Independence. The best response to this notion was stated over eighty years ago by the only American president born on the 4th of July Calvin Coolidge:
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress.
As Coolidge so eloquently explained, the Declaration is a truly progressive document, representing the height of political and human understanding. It symbolizes the sacrifices others have made before us, and those that we will continue to make in the name of freedom. The Declaration has become much more than a rallying cry for freedom among a group of 18th century colonies. It has become the document which inspires Americans to cherish their freedom and come together as one people of varying backgrounds, religions, and beliefs.