Americans are expected to govern themselves, but we are neglecting to provide our citizens with the foundation to uphold these responsibilities, our shared values as a nation, and how this country has evolved over time. Nations need to have symbols, creeds, and stories that allow different people to imagine a shared sense of purpose and interest. Without them, it is difficult to find common ground. People who do not understand why they hold their beliefs are often unable to have a constructive conversation about the difficult problems that democracies must collectively solve.
Fourth of July should be a day for Americans to celebrate the common values that spring from our nation's origin. When the American patriots parted with Great Britain, they stated their reasons, noting that "a decent respect for the views of humanity" required an explicit statement.
These two concepts created the cornerstone of American freedom and the justification for American democracy. They have powerfully shaped American values and identity, but it didn't have to be that way.
Without an emphasis on popular sovereignty and equal rights, it would have been a very different statement. Without the creed of freedom, the document would not have been so significant and would not have contained the transforming fuel that drives the aspirational values of our nation.
Despite the limitations on the right to vote for poor men, for women, the continued existence of slavery, and the limitations on civil rights of African Americans at the time of our independence, the powerful rhetoric of equality and consent had an impact. transformer.
Poor men across the country would use the language of equality and popular sovereignty to claim equal access to vote during the founding era. Equal rights language would topple the state-controlled monopoly of religious truth for a long time in the Eurocentric world, and would guarantee the belief in freedom of conscience for all people in the United States.
Immigrants would use the Declaration to claim equal treatment and access to citizenship, and therefore representation. It would be used to justify the idea of the legitimacy of an opposition party against the elected majorities, and it would be used to protect the rights of people in the Constitution, as well as the state constitutions, which came to define American citizenship.
Women would use the Declaration of Independence to demand equal laws and the right to vote. Unions would use it to organize work against capital. The American people would use it to navigate between the charms of fascism and communism when our systems seemed to be failing. Abolitionists would use it to attack the institution of slavery, and Fredrick Douglass and Martin Luther King, and many others, would use it to point out the hypocrisy of white citizens in the face of continued black oppression. And we still use these principles to measure the freedom of other nations, regardless of whether or not we decide to adapt our foreign policy to our values.
The founding generation did not make a perfect country. In many ways, they failed to deliver on their powerful vision of freedom. However, they gave us our foundational aspirations and institutional heritage that we still trust to solve our problems. We can be proud of it. It is a foundation on which it has been continually built, but it can only last if we teach our history.
Washington's challenge is still upon us as we strive to live up to our nation's high ideals. It is not the founders who are responsible for our failures to fulfill the creed of this nation, we are free to shape our future. Our shared values of equality and popular consent still drive our frustrations with our imperfect society today, but these are our values and we should be proud to celebrate them.
So, on the fourth of July, go ahead, eat a cookout, fire some fireworks, raise a flag, and salute the promise of America and all those who have fought and lived for it. And be proud to recognize that we, the people, control the meaning of equality and popular government in our future, which is our heritage and our great confidence.