One of the things I love about Independence Day is that it is not a day of war but the day of an idea. No famous battle was met on that day, and no flag was waved in either victory or surrender. It was a day not of victory in the present over tyrants of the past, but a day of vision for the future. It was a day not of the defeat of our enemies, but a day marking the definition of our national character.
It would be just as easy, and perhaps more fitting to celebrate our nation’s birthday on October 19th, when General Cornwallis surrendered, or on September 3rd, when (three years later) the British formally signed the treaty of Paris or on January 14th when the Continental Congress ratified that treaty. It could be argued that it was at those moments, legally, according the rule of law and the other countries involved that the United States was born.
But we choose to celebrate the moment of conception rather than the moment of delivery as our country’s birthday. We celebrate a concept — independence based not upon might, but upon rights that are innately ours.
Independence Day is the celebration of the idea of independence and self-determination for people and for nations. There have been other nations that granted certain levels of freedom and certain kinds of rights to subjects before ours. But our declaration is unique. It begs no rights from a government, from a king, or from any earthly agency. It is not a request for a boon of kind concessions from a monarch. It is a declaration that these rights do belong to us — regardless of oppression that might attempt to prevent our exercise of them. They do not belong to us by fiat or whim, but by our nature as beings who are unique upon the face of the earth.
I am proud to celebrate this day not because our government is perfect, or even the greatest. It has never been perfect and never will be. (If the founders thought it would be perfect, they wouldn’t have devised so complicated a system of checks and balances.)
Being proud of the United States of America is for me, not based on whether I am proud or ashamed of a past or current version of our government or any particular leader. If you look hard enough you can find a reason to be ashamed of some of our founders and others of their generation, and in every generation since. If you go looking for offense, you will always find it.
But no offense of past, recent, current, or future leaders can change the chief reason that I am proud of my nation and proud to celebrate Independence Day. Our nation’s birthday is reckoned by the declaration of an idea — not the cessation of hostilities, the signing of peace treaties, or the ratification of international agreements.
To me Independence Day is celebration of that idea and is a day to remember to keep the spirit of the document that the day is named for. It is up to us to continue to declare our independence.
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