"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."
-The Declaration of Independence
America’s founding document was created by flawed men. Many were slaveholders. All were white, educated, and comparably wealthy. They sought independence from England to pursue liberty for some Americans, but not all. They proclaimed self-evident truths but ignored self-evident hypocrisy. What about women? Or Black and Native people? What about equality and rights for everyone?
But the personal shortcomings and narrow vision of our founders shouldn’t blind us to the Declaration’s truths: all people are created equal, without exception. All people are endowed with unalienable rights.
On this Independence Day weekend, let’s ask if we are truly committed to the Declaration’s principles. If we believe in rights and equality, then why do we allow so many people to suffer from poverty, hunger, violence, and disease? Why do we have so few women and people of color in leadership positions? Why isn’t it self-evident to everyone that Black Lives Matter?
We’ve endured countless crises in our nation’s 244-year history, from economic downturns to civil unrest to pandemics to bloody wars. Each crisis raised questions about America’s ability to survive. But we prevailed each time, in large part because we united behind our founding principles. As Abraham Lincoln said in the aftermath of Gettysburg, our work is unfinished and hard times demand nothing less than our full measure of devotion.
The same is true today as we endure the quadruple threat of COVID-19, anti-Black violence, rising unemployment, and government malfeasance. To overcome this threat, we need to renew our commitment to our principles. We have to fight for them, just as our ancestors did at the dawn of the Revolutionary War and through many struggles after that: to free the slaves, to survive the 1918 flu, to withstand the Great Depression, to overcome fascism, and to secure civil rights.
Our vision of equality and universal rights isn’t limited by the origins of the Declaration of Independence. Rather, today’s vision is an unlimited one: fully dedicated to the proposition that we are all “created equal” and that this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Enjoy the rest of your weekend, everyone,
PS to honor America:
Langston Hughes: Let America be America Again
Marian Anderson: “My Country ‘tis of Thee”
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address