On July 4, 1776, 245 years ago today, the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence. By doing so, they committed treason, triggered a war with the most powerful military force in the world at the time, and created our great nation.
In the years since, we have endured and triumphed through wars, depressions, disease, and disasters of all kinds. This year, as we round the final turn in COVID-19, we celebrate Independence Day as a deeply divided nation.
Just last week California banned state-funded travel to five states. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is suing the state of Georgia over its new voting rights law.
Pew Research Center reported this year that in state legislatures across the country blue districts are getting bluer and red districts are getting redder. Common ground on issues is rare as our ideological differences drive us further apart.
Most of our political conversations used to be practical in nature, discussing the effectiveness of taxes or some policy. Now our national discourse has grown increasingly existential, as people worry about our deepening divide. Thinkers as different as conservative pundit Ben Shapiro and former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson have both warned of a coming “cold civil war.”
Left-wing extremists spent last summer rioting, leaving over $1 billion in property damage and over 20 dead. Last Jan. 6, they were followed by right-wing extremists storming the Capitol, leaving three dead and leading to over 500 arrests.
Even our history has become a point of contention. Nikkole Hannah Jones’ 1619 Project, published in 2019 – teaches that America is inextricably bound up with the evil of racism. Later, Hillsdale College and its president Larry P. Arnn created the 1776 Report, a rebuttal curriculum to the 1619 project.
At such a time, it can be wise to ask ourselves, what is Independence Day? What does the birth of the United States of America mean?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” With these lines, for the first time in human history a country was created on the basis that liberty was not granted or withheld by government, but rather an inherent gift from God.
In the 245 years since that Declaration, we have worked to live up to that creed. Far more often than not, we do. Since 1776, we have led the world as the “shining city on a hill,” and we still do today. Even in a world that is full of democratic governments (many modeled after our own), we stand at the gate defending liberty as the most powerful free nation on earth.
Of course, being imperfect people as we are, we will never perfectly master that Declaration. The evil of slavery persisted in our country for nearly a century after its conception.
But as long as we strive to uphold the Declaration of Independence, we will continue to lead the world as liberty’s torchbearer despite our imperfections.
As we work to improve and unify our country the most dangerous thing we can do is let go of the Declaration of Independence and the principles of liberty on which it stands. Our common heritage, regardless of any race religion, or creed, is the ideas set forth in the Declaration. Should we lose that common foundation of individual and inalienable rights, we will be a country without a common cause.
While we celebrate this Fourth of July, it would be wise of us to remember exactly who we are. The United States of America is still that shining city on a hill, and if we keep sight of our founding, it will be for centuries to come.