Yesterday I explained how Americans celebrate “Independence Day” on the wrong day of the year, and how what July 4, the day we actually pay homage to independence actually represents — not only to Americans, but also to all of humanity — something more meaningful than the simple declaration of a “separate and equal station” among the other nations of the earth. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 because that was the day we adopted something worthwhile in the American experiment that began 231 years ago. We still believe in the promise of the American Dream.
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Looking at the prosperity and might of the United States today, it can be difficult to imagine — even to those of us who have studied the period at great length — that the success of the liberty experiment was considered a long-shot by the rest of the world. Sure, there were those who cheered us on, but to our founders’ more worldly contemporaries, the colonists were little more than rabble — soon to be dispatched by the superior breeding and resources of the old world.
Getting rid of the “independency” sentiment from the colonies was considered to be for the good of the colonies anyway, since never before in history had a representative government (termed “democracy” only inaccurately and derisively in those days) been successfully implemented for any long period of time. Experiments to that end always disintegrated into chaos. Thus, not only was independence never assured, but neither was the freedom our founders claimed to be God’s will for mankind.
Indeed, for all of human history, though all of the enlightenment philosophers from Augustine to Locke to Voltaire spoke of how the natural state of man was to be free, countries were ruled, not by consent of the governed, but by coercion and the “Divine Right” of hereditary rule. Yet for all of the enlightened thinking that gave rise to the nation that would become a bastion of freedom, the promise of that freedom would take nearly another hundred years before the country could free itself from the lure of slavery.
They understood that the logical conclusion of their philosophy condemned them, but that did not stop them from standing foursquare with the truth of that philosophy.
The parallels between the struggles of the founders and our own should not be overstated, but they are unmistakable. Like them, we also long for justice in our daily affairs, and we normally interpret that to mean, among other things, we be free to pursue happiness.
Happiness, they understood, was never assured, but rather a worthwhile goal that required guarantees of life and liberty to continue in the pursuit. Likewise, when we pursue our own dreams that we believe will lead to our happiness and a better life, we will more often fail than we will succeed, just as our forebears failed periodically. But we get back up and we keep trying, because the goal is ultimately worthwhile to all of us. That is the American Dream.
Our founders also believed that government needed to operate in service to the people, not personal ambition or because of who their fathers were. Just so, our success in pursuit of our dreams is entirely dependent upon providing others what they need, not simply seeking what we want, and understanding that they are at liberty to decline our service, just as we are at liberty withhold it.
Of course, we do so for our own reasons, but also at our own risk. Our ancestors eventually paid — mightily — for their failure to eliminate every last vestige of evil from their social structures. In many ways, we are still paying today from those very same failures (and I firmly believe we are not yet and may never be done). And we also pay, as individuals, for ignoring the needs of our clients, customers, and neighbors.
Even so, we can make a vast difference in this world by holding firm to the truth that might even condemn us, for doing so gives our posterity the capacity to understand and overcome our failures, just as our founders had the wisdom and courage to do for their country. We can also make a big difference by understanding that we cannot mandate the happiness of any segment of society through unwelcome measures, but we can aid in the pursuit of happiness by at least attempting to be of great service to our neighbors — even if that means we must do so one person at a time.
The duty enjoined on us by the freedom we are promised to pursue that happiness is the greatest example we have to offer the world, and thus its indefatigable pursuit and faithful execution is the greatest brand in America.
Happy Independence Day, America. Make the most of it. – Cam Beck