American flag, front porch, Blue Bell Hill
It seems to me that Americans, in principle a free people, have the right to celebrate or not celebrate the Fourth of July, and if they choose to do so, to celebrate in their own way and for their own reasons.
In a recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chris Satullo argues that America does not “deserve to celebrate its birthday” this year, citing violations of human rights, including torture and imprisonment without charges, which he correctly sees as a sad deviation from the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, namely “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.”
But surely if we are to decide each year whether or not to celebrate the writing of these words based on how well we and our government have followed the principles they invoke, we would never have been able to hold a Fourth of July. For nearly a century after the Declaration of Independence was signed, people kept slaves. Women were denied many of the rights that men routinely held, and were not allowed to vote until 1920. And what of the horrendous treatment of Native Americans? And the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II? The list goes on.
Our government, like all governments, is not perfect. And I would agree that at present we are way off course. Yet I also believe that the values set forth in the Declaration of Independence are still there to correct that course. As values -- as ideals -- they will always remain a force that drives us forward; but as values and ideals, they can never be fully attained.
Abraham Lincoln, perhaps this country’s greatest defender of the Declaration of Independence, understood its tremendous importance in steering the destiny of the nation. That is why he invoked it in the Gettysburg Address as he struggled to help the American people make sense of the horrific loss of life during the Civil War. Adherence to the principle that “all men are created equal” brought us to that war, and the guiding principle of “government of the people, by the people, for the people” helped to bring us back together afterward.
In his article, Satullo chides not just the government for violations of human rights, but you and me as well. That is fair. In a democracy we are all responsible for our country’s actions. But I am not sure that we are as indifferent to the problems and issues as he suggests. The greatest weapon in our arsenal against bad government is our right to vote. Seems we’ve been doing a lot of that lately. I, for one, take much pride in the active involvement of the students at the University where I work during the Pennsylvania primary. I also take much pride in the fact that we have an African American candidate for president this year, and that his main opponent during the primary season was a woman.
So I am going to celebrate the Fourth of July this year. I am going hang the American flag on my front porch. I am going to think about the values set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and of all of those who struggled and died to advance those values. I think it is proper and fitting to do so.
And now I’ll shut up, except to say to those of you who intend to celebrate the Fourth, happy holiday, and to everyone, have a great weekend.