July 4 comes on a Monday this year, but whenever it arrives, it should never become just an excuse for a day off or a long weekend.
Without the events of that long ago summer day, we might well be subjects of Great Britain to this day. Instead, the Declaration of Independence was finalized on July 4, 1776, and set the former British colonies on the path toward emergence as a nation.
So what should we be celebrating?
We think the Declaration of Independence is a document that should be read regularly, to remind us of who we are as a country, and to make sure we stay on the path set by those who fought to create a free nation.
“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.” Those are perhaps the document’s most famous lines, and the “created equal” part of the sentence is one we need to remember every day. But the list of injustices attributed to Great Britain also makes for a good reminder of what our government should never become.
And it’s particularly good reading during a time when political attacks rise – or sink – to unpleasant levels in the throes of an upcoming Presidential election and landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
It’s also a straightforward and simple document. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those aren’t qualities the rulers of every nation on Earth freely grant their citizens, especially based on the words “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That seems normal to us, but in many countries, it’s only something to dream about.
It’s a reminder as well to all Americans that our ancestors chose a form of government whose power comes from the governed. When we don’t vote, we’re shirking that responsibility, something people fought and died to attain. And when we do vote, the result is the law, whether our side won or lost.
National holidays have become times for public celebration and private parties. But marking the Fourth of July should be more than lighting the barbecue, getting out the sparklers, or heading to a fireworks display. Those activities are all part of the spirit of celebration, but spend some time to remember what this nation stands for as well.
Have a safe and celebratory Fourth of July. Our ancestors would want it to be that way.