It’s Independence Day. Today marks the 244th birthday of the United States of America — the anniversary of the day the Founding Fathers issued the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, separating the American colonies from Britain and King George III.
This is a Fourth of July like no other, in the midst of a pandemic that continues to bring death, heartbreak, uncertainty and economic despair to the United States of America.
Discussions about COVID-19 and another significant 2020 development — the renewed and necessary Black Lives Matter protests — have us using words like freedom, rights and liberty regularly these days.
With that in mind, this birthday of our remarkable nation is an appropriate moment to read and reflect on some of the documents that serve — more than two centuries later — as America’s bedrock.
In September, we urged everyone to read the Constitution: “It is compelling. And teeming with intellectual rigor. And filled with fascinating concepts. It remains vital today.” And we highlighted this 2008 quote from retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the contemporary relevance of the Constitution: “It’s survived very well, I think. ... To have a good government and maintain a good government, every generation has to learn about the Constitution and the laws. That way, every generation can provide good citizens who will understand our form of government and participate by voting and other ways. It’s critically important that we learn about it, and you don’t inherit that knowledge, you have to learn it.”
You don’t inherit that knowledge, you have to learn it. That idea holds true for more than the Constitution. It’s important that we read, for ourselves, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and other key documents associated with the founding and shaping of the United States. It’s part of good citizenship.
America remains strong only if we educate ourselves on how it operates and if we participate fully in our democracy. We must register to vote and exercise that right in each election. And we must do our part to safeguard voting rights and the integrity of our democratic processes.
If you don’t already have a copy of the Constitution and other founding documents at home, you can go online or to your local library (if it’s open yet) to read them.
To whet your appetite a bit, here are some passages from the Declaration of Independence, straight from the National Archives website. (The spelling and punctuation reflect the original document.)
‘We hold these truths’
“In Congress, July 4, 1776.
“The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
“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, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. —Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
“... We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”