Happy Birthday America!
Baltimore Times Editorial Staff | 7/4/2013, 10:43 p.m.
It's hard to imaginethis nation's infancy 237 years ago. It's hard to imagine the courage of our founders and that gritty Continental Congress. It's hard to imagine more perfect words than those of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and his opening stanza:
"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."
Oftentimes, it's the words after that opening stanza, that are most forgotten. They are words of justified anger that provided the resistance and resolve of a nation that fade in the background of our country's history. Those words, however, are the roots of our democracy. That passion to be free from tyranny is what drove those early framers to our shores … and later drove them to die for the freedom of generations after them.
After a lengthy list of charges against King George, Jefferson wrote:
"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.
A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
After reasserting how the people of the 13 colonies had attempted on multiple occasions to work with Great Britain’s parliament and King George, Jefferson's pen closed the nation's birth certificate this way:
"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; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Today, as we reflect on our nation's history, it's easy to be complacent. A lot has changed in all these years. We live in a world where more children can recite the lyrics of Justin Bieber than the words of Thomas Jefferson. However, in some way, that's how our framers wanted it. They wanted a nation of free thinkers and independent minds who expressed themselves in an open society without obeying a heavy-handed king.
They longed for a nation where they could protest the decisions of their leaders, where the electorate had more power than those elected. So in that way, Jefferson and his early American brothers would likely look down on today's American society and smile that a free, independent people continue to thrive.
The only thing that could threaten the core values of those idealists who started this country is an apathetic electorate— people are consumed more by instant gratification than accountable representation. In short, we cease to be the United States of America by not stepping into the poll booths on Election Day to choose our leaders. That very action is the basis for our democracy.
So this year as we barbecue with friends, light fireworks and gather with friends and family, let's think about the sacrifices so many have made for us to be free, black and white, known and unknown, and let’s not miss an opportunity to honor all those men and women who risked everything to give us that right.