Why Celebrate the 4th of July?

Why do we celebrate our separation from Great Britain? A more prevalent question in today’s political climate may be, what sets America apart from other countries? Why have we culturally, and throughout history, held an idea of American exceptionalism? What made and has kept America the leader of the free world? Liberty, or to be more specific, American Liberty. Liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views. American Liberty shares this definition, but adds that this is a fundamental human right given by God, a Natural Law self-evident in the universe. A view that Americans are entitled to self-determinism, and that self-determinism has built this country into the most powerful in history. There are four instances in our history that I feel defined American Liberty, and that brought out the true meaning embedded in our founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and finally, Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Berlin wall. These three men, along with the crafters of the Declaration, and their vision for our country have led us to a clearer understanding of American Liberty and how we should define it today. Without implementing the ideas of these men our country would look very different from how it does now, and our founding documents would be just another weak attempt at creating a country that recognizes the rights of ALL its people, rather than just a choice few.

So why is our separation from Great Britain a landmark in human history? The Declaration of Independence states, “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.” This monumental passage is the groundwork of our Constitution. Firstly, the rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness were recognized as rights given to us by our creator, not by the government that be. If you are religious you can read “Creator” as the monotheistic creator of the universe, if you aren’t you can read “Creator” as the universe itself. They recognized these rights that we now see as basic human rights as Natural Law, something that existed outside of the scope of Government. This would then lead to the Constitution being a document that lists the rights of an individual, rights to be protected by the government, rather than rights given to an individual by their government. This passage also states that if a Government is infringing upon those rights, or is not sufficiently protecting those rights, the governed have the right (and I would say obligation) to alter or abolish said government, and then replace it with one that will positively affect their safety and happiness. A government requires the consent of the governed, not vice versa. That is a defining feature of our founding, and one that was extremely progressive for its time. We were the first of our kind, and we have acted as a beacon to the rest of the world, spreading our founding principles of Human Natural Rights and American Liberty.

A common critique of the Declaration of Independence’s integral message “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” is that historically America has not lived up to its call. This is obviously a fair point. Slavery lasted in the United Sates for 89 years, Institutional Segregation carried on for another 99 years, and even today we still can feel the after effects of institutional segregation, playing a part in social and economic inequity. However, it cannot be said that we haven’t made progress. There is an obvious difference between Slavery Era America and modern America, and even an apparent difference between Segregationist America and modern America, but again, our history is an undeniable factor in our current issue with inequality. An example of our fundamental shift can be seen in Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, a document and president that defined our country’s future. “That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” This pivotal passage was the basis for the ratification of the 13th amendment, which ended the legal institution of slavery in 1865. Abraham Lincoln and others that were like-minded recognized the call of the Declaration of Independence for what it truly was; what, by its own verbiage, it truly proclaimed. That ALL men are created equally, and it was a self-evident Truth, a Natural Law, and to withhold that from a group because of race or any other purpose is an act of grave evil. “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” Here President Lincoln makes his stance clear, this decision was his, it was just, and if it proved unwarranted, mankind may judge him accordingly. But he knew it was just, and he carried the gracious favor of Almighty God, or for those who aren’t religious, he stood with the Truth of Natural Law. All men are created equal, and with that comes a universal guarantee of the inalienable rights posited in the Constitution, given by God, protected by our government.

When I try to articulate how I see the true meaning of the founding documents, I feel like it’s always missing something. I can’t get it out just right. Dr. Martin Luther King explained it perfectly in his “I Have A Dream” speech. His speech was one of the most beautiful and clearly written interpretations of our founding documents this country has ever been graced with. “I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this Nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be trans­formed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream … I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will he able to join hands with little white boy’s and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Dr. King’s speech was a major factor in the equal rights movement for this reason, he called for peace. After all the injustice the African American community survived under, he still just called for peace and true equality. He didn’t call for a violent uprising, or the persecution of white Americans for recompense, he dreamed of equality. He dreamed of a fair America, an America that answered the call of the founding documents. If we learn nothing else from his speeches and peaceful protests in the face of racist, nonsensical violence, we should take away this idea; make a judgment of a person based on the content of their character, by the condition of their heart and soul, not by any physical characteristics. Your race, sex, gender, nationality, physical appearance, sexual orientation, none of those define who you are as a person. Those things shouldn’t give people the ability to withhold liberty from any American. Instead, your conscience, your thoughts and actions, and your character define who you are. He had a dream that if this country could live up to that creed, we would begin to see true equality create a home here in the United States of America, as it should be, and as it has always been moving closer and closer to being.

Ronald Reagan’s speech was another radical, yet blatantly obvious interpretation of the Declaration. “We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev…Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan’s mission statement is obvious, he posited that the advancement of human liberty, the recognition of humanities rights of which are self evident, was the only true way to achieve peace, and reach humanity’s potential. In this moment, President Reagan explained to the world that the United States of America was not only the leader of the free world; we were liberators. We sought not only to further our personal pursuit of human liberty, but also sought to break the chains of those under the boot of oppression and tyranny all around the world. The rights that we know to be self-evident were not only given to Americans, but to humanity as a whole. We as Americans should seek to spread the light of liberty to the entire world. And if we don’t, we again are failing to recognize the full scope of our founding philosophy. That ALL men are created equally, and are born with certain rights, that of which allow people to define themselves, and define their futures.

Our vision of American Liberty is under attack, Vladimir Putin just the other day said Western Liberty was an obsolete ideology. Liberty is finished. He said this due to a rising generation in Russia crying out for libertarian principles. People all across this planet dream of their country recognizing their individual sovereignty. We have seen great men and women dedicate and lose their lives in the battle to be included in our founding principles, to bring to fruition the true call of the crown jewel of our great nation. These men and women brought America to the forefront, they created a country that fights for and defends liberty. The 4th is a day to recognize their fight for liberty and individual sovereignty, and understand what they fought for. If we don’t continue to fight for and defend our principles, we will lose them to men like Vladimir Putin, who hate the idea of freedom and liberation from tyranny. We must fight the same as those who wrestled this country from the grip of Great Britain. We must fight like those who claimed their birthright in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of bigotry. We must fight for the truths we hold to be self evident. We must fight so that all of mankind will be recognized as being created equally. We must fight to maintain our inalienable rights, of which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The average life of a constitution historically is 17 years, this year we are 232 years into the life of our constitution. We are the exception not the rule. We must fight, and never back down in the face of tyranny. For ourselves, but also for those who have fought the fight to give us the country we hold dear today.

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Micah Kahler

Micah Kahler

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