As many celebrated Independence Day (July 4th) this week in the United States, there was perhaps one aspect to remember the most. Many nations, when celebrating their birth, look to some notion of identity in what constitutes their union. Such views typically lead to bonds of language, ethnicity, geography, dynastic history, or religion being expressed as the zeitgeist upon which national identity is based. However, when looking at the identity brought forth through American independence, it is something else entirely.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the United States celebrates it’s independence on July 4th. That day was when the colonies accepted the terms of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming their separation from Great Britain. Of course for those who know the history, independence wasn’t assured that day. Those who signed the declaration knew that their lives were on the line by “pledging to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor”, for if they had lost the revolution that was to come, death for treason was the likely result. Still, despite such a risk, the chance at a freedom from royal tyranny was enough to take it. Independence wasn’t assured until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed among the different parties involved. That moment, however, is not what we enshrine as our independence day. It wasn’t the moment that our freedom was assured that Americans draw attention to, it is the moment when we were free because we said we were. That says a lot about American identity itself.
Indeed many nations also do a similar relation concerning independence celebrations, but how the United States came to be shows how such a decision matches up well with the concept of our identity. Through the Declaration of Independence and it’s eventual successor, the Constitution (and Bill of Rights), our nation was formed not through the aforementioned bonds of kinship, but rather through an idea…identity through the law, governed by all, special privileges to none, and that people, no matter who or what they are, should be able to thrive on their own merits…and that such things aren’t given to us by government/s, but are a part of who we are as human brings (very Lockean). Indeed such an idea was more aspirational at the time, considering the imperfections that still very much existed at the time (slavery being the most obvious one). However, such imperfections don’t remove at the heart what such an idea embodied, and that it would ultimately drive those yet to experience such freedom and equality before the law to attain it (whether here or around the world), just as they inspired the Founders. Such a moment would lead to a renaissance around the world, and an eventual growth in freedom and innovation the likes of which generations had never witnessed before.
Such remembrance though must not give way to taking place for it’s own sake. While our nation remains among the freest in the world, that is not assured. The ability to be free to chart our own way in life is hardly guaranteed, and finds threats to it’s continued expression through political and social pressures. Those who came before us and the documents and victories they left behind have done much to advance the cause of liberty, but such things will mean nothing unless we continue to hold such values in our hearts and minds…and pass them on for others to understand and cherish. So go out there and enjoy a barbecue, blow up fireworks, tell those dirty jokes over and over again, play video games or watch someone else do it, watch that favorite TV show or movie, invest in that stock or risky venture, donate to that cause, visit that place, practice firing those guns, kiss and hug your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend regardless of who or what they are, chill with your friends no matter who or what they are, worship your creed, research and debate over any ideas, work on that project or concept, sell that lemonade, mow that lawn, drink that beer, smoke that weed, or do nothing at all. But above all, cherish that you can do any of those things, not because of obligation or coercion, but because you choose to…and defend others being able to make that choice as well, even if you may not agree with such activities…or ones I might not even have mentioned. As long as that drive lives on, the spirit of what was unleashed in Philadelphia 241 years ago will never perish from this world…and will remain an inspiration on these shores and elsewhere.