“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.”
Fifty-six brave men signed their names to this document 231 years ago, a document containing true principles for this new nation, the United States of America.
In the history of mankind we are still a young nation. Think of it this way: a child is born on July 4, 1776 and lives 80 years. The day he dies a girl is born and lives 80 years. The day she dies, a boy is born who is today 71 years old. Our nation is only as old as the span of three lifetimes.
But we are unique. Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to a set of ideas capable of provoking a worldwide revolution of freedom.
A few years ago I was involved in promoting a law requiring Arizona’s public school students to recite a portion of the Declaration each morning. For us to maintain liberty it is essential that our citizens have an understanding of the true principles on which our nation is based, and those truths must be passed along to future generations.
Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said “America is essentially an idea.” We are not united by race or ethnic heritage but by revolutionary ideas, and those ideas and truths must be transmitted to future generations.
Truths that our rights come from God, not government. That these rights are unalienable, and not dependent on the whims of who is in political power at the moment. That government is the servant of the people, and not the reverse, and that government is only legitimate so far as it reflects the the consent of the people who are governed.
These principles in our Declaration of Independence are universal truths – they apply to all men and women at all times in all lands, which is why we as Americans have so often come to the aid of those in other nations who are fighting against tyrannical and totalitarian regimes and who desire to live free.
Three and a half decades after the Declaration was signed we fought England again in the War of 1812; Great Britain even took possession of and burned the White House.
Liberty and freedom don’t come easily, and they are only maintained through constant vigilance.
Because the Declaration’s truths are universal – the cry of every human heart for freedom — we cannot ignore our moral obligation to advance those aspirations around the world. We are a generous and compassionate people. Our commitment to freedom and equal justice inspire freedom-loving people everywhere.
The universal appeal of our nation’s commitment to principle is clear – that’s why Martin Luther King Jr. could cite the Declaration in his speech in Washington during the campaign for civil rights, pointing out our failure to live up to our own aspirations. And that is why Chinese students in Tiananmen Square chose the Statue of Liberty as their symbol of defiance.
Abraham Lincoln said in the context of slavery, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
I believe we are obligated to advance freedom around the world, and that to do so is the best form of national security. Democracies generally do not attack each other.
Even in the emotional and divisive debate over illegal immigration, we can think outside the box and envision a solution for Mexico and nations further south. If we can advance economic and political freedom in Mexico, Latin and South America, if we can promote an end to corruption – there will be such prosperity and opportunity in those nations that there will be no need to come to America as anything other than tourists.
Freedom and independence are universal aspirations. We defend our own independence not only through a strong national defense but also by encouraging the aspirations of people in other nations, including Iraq, Iran, China and Mexico, to live in economic and political freedom.
Now is not the time to retreat. We must not squander the inheritance of freedom and independence we’ve been given, and that our soldiers have died to preserve.
John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about the first Independence Day:
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized 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.
You will think I am transported with enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”
We are that posterity, and we have triumphed as a result of what occurred in Philadelphia 231 years ago.
Ronald Reagan reminded us that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
This is our time, this is our generation, this is our moment to embrace our inheritance of freedom and independence, and to rededicate ourselves to securing “… the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”.
As Adams said a half-century later, from his deathbed on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration – “Independence Forever!”