Independence day is meant to recognize a very specific event in our nation's history, the declaration of our independence from Great Britain. We recognize this day as such not because of some formal or acknowledged treaty, some diplomatic understanding between the parties involved in a dispute, no quite the opposite this was a day of absolute defiance against the powers that be.
This is important to remember, that by declaring independence the colonist particularly the members of the continental congress who signed it were stating, in fact they were declaring, something that was not yet a reality. They were declaring an ideal, in fact several ideals that were not yet functional reality, yet they declared them to be true none the less. Then they challenged the supreme power of the world at that time to prove them wrong.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Declaration of Independence is that it was no only a political document, it was a philosophical one as well. It more than any other document in history, stated that without doubt or equivocation that men were and should be free. Was that reality then, is it now? No it was not then or is it now reality that all men are free. But that does not change the truth of the declaration that all men should be free.
The fact that many of those signers declared a belief in a universal freedom which they they themselves did not grant to others particularly the slaves they continued to posses makes them hypocrites of the first order, but it in no way diminishes the truth they declared. As it turned out, their hypocrisy in no small part proved to be the catalyst for a centuries long struggle to live up to the ideals that they themselves could not.
There is a scripture in the Bible which states "Let all men be liars but let God be true." and in a sense that is all that the philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence is. It is a universal truth, it is an ideal which we strive for and often times do not achieve but it does not make the ideal any less noble or just. To believe otherwise is like saying that because all men lie, the truth does not matter. The truth always matters,despite our inability to perfectly practice it.
What are we to think when a nation established with this declaration of truth, which unequivocally states "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal", ends up with a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who render this opinion regarding other human beings. That they "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it."
Would we say that the Declaration was wrong or that Chief Justice Taney and those that held his view were wrong? Obviously most people now and even then believed Justice Taney was wrong and therefore the stated truth of the Declaration, whose own author violated it's most sacred tenant, was correct.
This conflict between the ideal of the Declaration and the reality which was so blatantly obvious ate at the very soul of the nation it had created. Frederick Douglass put this conflict of ideal versus reality into words on a Fourth of July celebration a few years previously when he said.
"To side with the right against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers."
Indeed liberty was being stabbed in the back by some who gloried in the deeds of their fathers. But that was not the end of the tale, nor has the quest for the truth and justness of the Declaration yet been or probably ever will be achieved. We are imperfect human beings who strive for perfection but are destined never to achieve it in life here on Earth.
As I said that was not the end of the story. The ideal which burned imperfectly in the hearts of the men who Declared universal liberty for all burned brighter still in those in following generations who had to live with an ideal that was now being recognized as a universal truth.
Just six years after Justice Taney's hideous ruling which by the mere power of his opinion became the law of the land, let those who revel in the power of a Supreme Court's decisions take note, Abraham Lincoln within whom the fire of the Declaration burned brightly mad some brief comments at another Fourth Of July celebration where in part he said:
"...[O]n this last Fourth of July just passed, when we have a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, ``turned tail' and run...."
Seldom commented on by those who would beat America over the head regarding the hypocrisy of its principles versus the reality of its practices, is the fact that due to those principle great human sacrifices have been made in an attempt to uphold them and achieve them. Yes it is true that some men have not lived up to the principles of our founding but that does not make those principles any less true, just, or worth fighting for.
Not five months after Lincoln gave his simple statement to those who had come to serenade him, he put it in words that ring through history. A defense which makes those detractors look petty considering the sacrifices of those who died for the principles. Those who mock the nation that brought forth liberty as a guiding principle ignoring those that have through the centuries suffered so much to promote and grow it.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
All of this was and still is just the beginning of the struggle by imperfect men in an imperfect nation to achieve the perfect principle upon which this nation is founded, that all men are created equal.
What better principle, what better goal would you have a nation aspire to achieve?
Where has this aspiration been better manifested among so many diverse cultures? The answer is nowhere.
Independence Day recognizes a Declaration of ideals that have not yet and perhaps never will be achieved to perfection, but the ideals are no less monumental in their significance. The need to strive to uphold and institute these ideals is our only hope in a history primarily marked with oppression.
All men are created equal, keep up the good fight.