An Independence Day Message
244 years ago, outside of what was then called the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, representatives from thirteen British colonies declared themselves to be "free and independent states ... absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is ... totally dissolved." They stood up and unanimously declared to the world that, as representatives of a people, they found it necessary to dissolve the political bands which had connected them with England, and with respect to the opinions of mankind, they declared the causes which impelled them to that separation. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights".
Now, as strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that statement down, and it was a revolutionary concept. The whole idea ran contrary to both the entrenched political thoughts and the established spiritual thoughts of that time. Consider for a moment that, up to that point in history, there was a universally recognized political tradition – the divine right of kings. In other words, God specifically chose that person to rule over you, in one sense making them better than you are, and in another that any defiance against the crown was to defy the dictates of God. Not only that but, in England, since the head of the government was also the head of the church, any defiance against the crown could condemn your soul to eternal damnation.
Yet, with that one very eloquent statement, America’s first statesmen answered a fundamental political question – are men’s rights simply dispensed by the various governments to their subjects, or were they derived from another source? By stating that "all men are created equal", these men were stating that the king was no more nor less a better or holier person than you or I. And by asserting that "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights", they were saying that these fundamental rights were given to men by God, not by other men. Again, it was a revolutionary concept.
As Americans, we work to live up to the ideals of that simple, eloquent statement. We understand that we may not succeed, and in many areas we haven't succeeded, but it's the goal that drives us as a people, as an American people, to continually do better, and to continually be better. It is those ideals that are a key part of our priceless heritage, that they are the principles of our Founding Fathers and our intrepid pioneers that we strive to be worthy of, and that they are the legacy that we want to pass on to our children and our grandchildren. They are part of what it means to be an American, even in the 21st century.
A former statesman and religious leader once put it this way: “As one with you, charged with the responsibility of protecting and perpetuating this noble heritage, I stand today with bowed head and heart overflowing with gratitude. May we begin to repay this debt by preserving and strengthening this heritage in our own lives, in the lives of our children, their children, and generations yet unborn.”