On July 4, 1776, our founders pulled off a paradox of historic proportions. In formation of our new nation, they boldly declared us both independent and united.
In so doing, these courageous leaders simultaneously separated us from the tyranny, patriarchy, and social inequity of a colonial monarchy, and bonded us in the ideals of democracy and justice for all. It was a gorgeous and heroic feat of
statecraft and human evolution.
In the intervening 241 years, the nation that was enshrined on a groundbreaking platform of equality and liberty has not always lived up to its hopes and ideals. But with all of its shortcomings and human failures, it has been a beacon of hope and a bastion of promise for millions who believe in the dreams of human dignity that the founders envisioned.
On this day of the annual celebration of our independence, and at this time of deep fracture and contention within our republic, it is worthwhile to revisit the text and ideology of the Declaration that we herald with fireworks and barbecues.
The Declaration of Independence begins with a statement of separation from “the political bonds which have connected” the fledgling nation from its colonial heritage. It then eloquently but succinctly states the “self-evident” truths and “unalienable rights” on which the new country will be founded. The bulk of the text catalogs the long list of offenses that the English monarchy has perpetrated, citing these as reasons for which the American people refuse to maintain fealty to the crown. The declaration then ends with a pledge to unite in the lofty mission on which the founders had jointly embarked.
“… 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.”
Independence, we understand from the text, is not an end in itself, but rather a new foundation on which to build a better union. On July 4th, we became independent from an imperial power, but only in order to become united in a more virtuous mission and undertaking. The freedom of 1776 was not the desire of every person to go his/her own way, but rather to forge a new trail together, to put aside our differences and in solidarity to create something bold and unique and for the benefit of all.
As our country today pulls at its seams, we would do well to recommit ourselves to the pledge that we, as citizens of this great country, have made not only to our constitution, but most importantly to one another. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor”in order to build a nation where all people are considered equal and all are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In order to fulfill this pledge, we must be willing to labor and compromise. We must be civil, respectful, and accepting. We must stretch beyond our limitations in the awareness that we are not here to independently pursue our own agendas, but rather to join as individuals in the common purpose of the common good.
As we celebrate today and consider the meaning and value of the “Independence” that we have been granted, it is simultaneously vital to remind ourselves of the term “United” that is not only the first word of our country’s name, but is the primary goal and premier virtue of our national identity.
Marc Erlbaum, Contributor