According to the National Constitution Center, there remains — after more than two centuries — some spirited debate as to whether July 2 or July 4, 1776, is the date with the more legitimate historical claim to being Independence Day. The center’s Scott Bomboy writes: “If John Adams were alive today, he would tell you July 2. Other Founders would say July 4, the day that is currently recognized as a federal holiday by our national government. And still, other Founders would say, ‘what Independence Day?’ since the holiday wasn’t widely celebrated until many of the Founders had passed away.” Nonetheless, our nation has long settled upon today, the Fourth of the July, as the day to commemorate the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

It might be easy for someone to be despondent or pessimistic about the state of America on this Fourth of July.

Look up Marietta! Independence Day fireworks display slated for Saturday

Today’s political rhetoric, far too often, is rancorous. Civility is chipped away at with each passing week. Our nation faces a considerable test of its character and a debate about what it intends to stand for moving forward.

It might be easy to be pessimistic, but we should not be.

The United States of America is a tremendous nation. There is no other place like it.

Today, especially, we should look past the struggles of this given moment and reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a country that allows us “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today, especially, we should be thankful to be Americans. Thankful for what our founders accomplished in 1776. Thankful for all those who have served, fought and died to preserve our nation. Thankful that we have a system of government that — while not flawless — is the best and truest democracy in history.

Today, especially, we should be thankful for our freedom — and all that freedom allows.

Elsewhere on today’s Opinion pages, national columnist George Will discusses the Declaration of Independence and its importance as a foundational document for America; Millersville University associate professor Nazli Hardy, a naturalized citizen, writes eloquently about what “being American” truly means, and — in an ongoing tradition for these pages — readers give thanks for acts of kindness and charity that have been bestowed upon them in recent months. In our love and empathy for each other, we display the best of American values.

Last weekend’s Sunday LNP, meanwhile, included stories about Lancaster County residents who are new U.S. citizens and who can finally say they are “proud to be Americans.” They remind us of the things that we take for granted in our everyday lives. A couple of highlights:

— Cuban native Diveidys Guerra-Acosta became a U.S. citizen in June. Sitting outside the Lancaster Public Library with her new library card, she told LNP’s Earle Cornelius, “I’m determined in making a difference by taking my new citizenship rights and knowledge ... learning and honoring the laws of our Constitution and enforcing my civil rights as a citizen.” She has a special interest in workers’ rights and said plainly, “I just want to help people.”

— Rachel Bofuasini Bunkete, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also became a citizen last month in Lancaster County. She works as a machine operator for Anvil International in Columbia. She told LNP’s Jennifer Kopf that, after waiting years to become a citizen, she is thrilled that she will have an opportunity to vote in elections. Her family’s Lancaster city house has “a Bible verse on the living room wall and a new American flag tucked into a front-room floral arrangement,” Kopf wrote. And how was Bunkete feeling days before her first Fourth of July as an American citizen? “It’s a good day for me,” she said. “I want to celebrate it.”

Guerra-Acosta and Bunkete — and all of our newest citizens — contribute to the rich tapestries of Lancaster County and America. They are now part of our nation’s promising future.

This is also a great day to note the contributions of another part of our national tapestry — our young people. We were heartened to see in Tuesday’s LNP Schools section that Lancaster County’s “new recruits to the U.S. military are making sure that they make a positive difference at home in the days before they begin their service to country.” To that end, recruits from several high schools spread mulch and helped with cleanup efforts at Buchanan Park. Soon, many will be off to military training.

It is not often enough that we praise our young people who choose to answer the call to military service. Our national safety, our freedoms and our very ability to celebrate each Fourth of July depend upon the members of the armed forces.

Today is a day for family, friends, cookouts and fireworks. As we relax and celebrate, we should also take some time to reflect upon our freedoms, our fellow Americans and the things that make this nation truly special.