Tuesday, August 9, 2022
Aug. 9, 2022

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In Our View: July 4 right time to ponder meaning of freedom

The Columbian

At a time when Americans have difficulty finding agreement about what our nation has been, what it is now and what it will be in the future, Independence Day provides an opportunity for national introspection.

For 246 years, the United States has served as a remarkable experiment in governance of the people, by the people and for the people. The Founding Fathers did not create the world’s first representative democracy, but they created one of the first and one that has transformed global politics. For more than two centuries, America has inspired people around the world, serving as a shining beacon of freedom while standing up politically and militarily to despots and tyrants.

There are imperfections, of course. There always have been. But as we celebrate the Fourth of July today, we celebrate the founding of a remarkable nation. As author Helle C. Dale writes for The Heritage Foundation: “As we look around the world at how difficult it is for democracy and freedom to take hold and flourish, America seems like a political miracle.”

The Fourth of July celebrates the Declaration of Independence, in which the American colonies announced they were throwing off the cloak of imperial England. The day, wrote John Adams, “will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Adams was actually writing about July 2, 1776, the day that delegates to the Second Continental Congress declared their independence. But the official Declaration of Independence was adopted two days later, and July 4 came to be celebrated as the great anniversary festival.

For more than two centuries the meaning of that festival has gradually changed. While America’s independence — which still required several years of bloody warfare — has been conflated with individual independence, that has not always been the case. Slavery was prevalent for another 80 years; women were not universally able to vote for another 144 years; people of color have been subjected to oppressive discrimination, both overt and covert.

Acknowledging those failings does not diminish our pride in these United States. It gives us hope that this nation will continue to evolve and strive toward the ideals it professes to hold.

In 1787, Ben Franklin famously was asked whether the founders had adopted a republic or a monarchy. “A republic,” he reputedly replied, “if you can keep it.” What might or might not be an apocryphal story has lingered for centuries as an assessment both witty and ominous.

Other doubts have been expressed over the years. In his 1835 publication “Democracy in America,” French observer Alexis de Tocqueville assessed whether the United States can continually march toward freedom: “It depends on themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.”

All of that is weighty to ponder on a day marked by barbecues and fireworks and a celebration of freedom. But it is particularly essential to consider these days, as our nation continues to distill an attempt 18 months ago to overthrow our government and abrogate the peaceful transition of power.

The meaning of freedom and the sturdiness of the ideals spelled out in the Declaration of Independence have been challenged, perhaps as never before. Preserving those ideals require some introspection, both during the great anniversary festival and long after it has passed.

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