What We Celebrate When We Celebrate Independence Day

Heading into the July 4 weekend, you’re probably getting ready to fly the flag, have a cookout or watch a parade and pyrotechnic display. But it’s also a good time to reflect on what we celebrate when we celebrate #Independence Day.

The Second Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence on July 2, 1776, but issued the #Declaration of Independence — announcing the legal separation of 13 colonies from Great Britain and establishing a new nation — two days later.

Founding Father John Adams told his wife, Abigail, that he expected July 2 to be the date celebrated “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more,” but the official declaration’s date became the anniversary day.

The document is remarkable for championing the equality of all men; guaranteeing the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and establishing the government as the protector of those rights. If the government fails to protect these rights, it says, the people are free to form a new one.

At the time, no other nation had defined its purpose in such plainspoken and universal terms, and the concepts are worth revisiting. And with the United States now the richest and most powerful nation in history, many forget the advantages of such inalienable rights or attempt to restrict others’ access to them.

While American society has maintained considerable and often brutal inequalities in the years since, today we interpret the Declaration of Independence as guaranteeing the foundational rights of rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to everyone — not just people of one’s own race, gender, religion or party. The nation’s #veterans have fought repeatedly to protect those rights, and they could dissolve just as quickly as they came together in 246 years ago in Philadelphia.

This July 4th, take time out to enjoy that all-American hot dog. Go see that parade. Watch a star-spangled display. Enjoy the long weekend. But remember that in establishing a new, self-governing nation, the Declaration of Independence sought in some measure to mitigate oppression for every citizen of the United States. And that work is not yet complete.

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