As America this weekend marks the 245th anniversary of its independence, its residents should be ever mindful of two truisms:
- It takes more than declarations to be — and, more importantly, remain — free; and,
- Freedom by itself is hardly worth celebrating. It’s what you do with it that really counts.
History books — assuming there are any still in existence that tell the story accurately and revel in this country’s manifest glories — pinpoint the moment of American sovereignty to the unanimous passage by the Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
But as important as the cherished document unquestionably is, its signing was an almost entirely symbolic gesture at the time, undertaken primarily to boost the morale of George Washington and the ragtag army still waging a bloody Revolutionary War with Great Britain that only came to an end five years later following the surrender of General Cornwallis near Yorktown, Va.
Even at that, it took another two years before the British finally recognized American independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and it wasn’t until 1787 that the fledgling nation officially established its own government by adopting the first U.S. Constitution.
Proclamations are important, but they’re not worth the paper they’re written on unless they’re backed up by the willingness of a nation’s citizens to fight — over and over again, if necessary — to preserve the ideals they enshrine.
Americans accepted that burden in 1812, when they found themselves at war with the same Great Britain from whom they had only recently wrested their independence, and they’re still making installment payments on that debt to this very day.
But it isn’t just self-determination we commemorate on Independence Day. It’s what we’ve done with this precious gift.
Adolf Hitler’s Germany, to cite the most horrific example in memory, was unquestionably autonomous, but no sane person celebrates what he did with it. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kim Jong-il and countless modern dictators have similarly squandered the blessings of freedom.
With all its faults and weaknesses, the United States of America stands alone in the pantheon of nations not only for the ferocity with which its sons and daughters have defended — and will always — defend their liberty. But also for its enduring commitment to the ideal of extending the same right to its citizens.
In the same vein, we celebrate more on the 4th of July than simply our military victory over the British more than two centuries ago. We proclaim for all the world to see the individual liberty that subsequently made this country the strongest, most prosperous and most envied in the history of the world.
Happy 4th of July from the Freedom Foundation.