Happy birthday, America!

We celebrate the Fourth of July as the day when the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence — humbly revering the 56 of our Founding Fathers who signed their names to a document that once and for all ended the rule of the King of England and his government, setting a course before us that would eventually lead to the free republic we love and enjoy today.

While most of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, recites a lengthy catalog of grievances against the British crown and government and provides the colonists’ justification so the rest of the world might understand our decision to “dissolve the political bands” between the colonies and England, it is the second paragraph’s opening words that have become the underlying principle of this great land of ours — even though they have no real legal standing and were not included in the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” Jefferson so eloquently wrote, “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness … ” words every school child in America can probably recite from memory. These words are among the best known in the English language, proclaiming the equality of all men and that the purpose of government is to secure our God-given and unalienable rights. The colonists did not forget the wrongs they’d endured, and they later incorporated prohibitions against many of those grievances in the Bill of Rights.

This week, as we celebrate Independence Day, we should not only remember the Founding Fathers who had the courage to stand up to a tyrannical government, we should also remember Jefferson’s noble words and apply them to our country and our lives today.

We should always remember the courage of the Founding Fathers who, by signing the Declaration of Independence, also signed their own death warrants.

We should call upon our leaders at all levels of government — Republicans and Democrats — to acknowledge and recognize the wisdom of those 30-some-odd words and apply the simple principle they embody when conducting the people’s business, especially in these times when the reins of government are pulled by such strong, partisan forces.

We also should call upon all the citizens of this great land, despite their political leaning — to conduct themselves in a manner that honors this founding principle. All of us should recognize it’s not enough to simply recite those high-sounding words once a year when it’s time to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The obvious truth is that freedom is not free. Many Americans have died defending the freedom we cherish. If we are to remain a free people, each of us must take that same revolutionary stand in our own time and in our own lives. Like our much-admired Founding Fathers, we too must rise to defend these self-evident and unalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“To be true to one’s own freedom is, in essence, to honor and respect the freedom of all others,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower said during his State of the Union Address in 1953. And let us never forget we always have much more work to do in this regard.