“ … The Representatives of the united states of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved: and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.”
With this Declaration of Independence, signed by the Congress of the 13 colonies on July 4, 1776, our great nation was born. Two hundred and forty-two years later, America remains a free and independent collection of 50 states, its citizens able to enjoy autonomy, prosperity and access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to a degree that few other countries on Earth come close to.
Does the spirit of the founders continue to this day? Hardly.
The language of the Declaration of Independence and the actions of the early patriots were audacious, bold and laden with courage. Can any present-day leader, caucus or political party lay claim to this mantel? The Declaration of Independence is a not a trophy or monument — it is a living, breathing challenge to Americans to question government; to hold government to high standards of prudence, justice and decency.
Great Britain was the enemy in 1776. In 2018, the enemy is the loss of critical thinking. In the age of Twitter and sound bites, a political platform is condensed to an elevator pitch. The best candidate and the best TV commercial are one and the same.
Almost as old as the Declaration of Independence is the warning that “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Are we awake to the abuses and deceptions that sprout in all governments just as weeds emerge in all gardens? It requires a kind of vigilance that has been eroded by our immersion in partisan echo-chambers, nifty videos and witty bumper stickers.
America continues to be a light for the rest of the world. But history shows that such titles can be retired. Great Britain was “the empire on which the sun never sets” back when those impertinent colonists challenged the crown.
The challenge to Americans in 2018 is less to respect the spirit of our founders than to revive it.