My Turn – Happy birthday, America!

Submitted by Sam Williams        

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, a time when Americans all across this great land of ours celebrate the birth of our great nation. Me, too.

It’s also a time of turmoil and political unrest as our country confronts a number of issues including the exploding COVID-19 pandemic and our reactions to it, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement and the appropriateness of monuments honoring those responsible for the Confederacy, those who defended the inferiority and enslavement of African people so strongly and staunchly they took up arms against the Union in the American Civil War.

Most Americans probably don’t remember the Revolutionary War began in Lexington, Massachusetts with the shot heard round the world April 19, 1775. And I know anyone who takes the time to actually read the Declaration of Independence, allegedly signed July 4, 1776, will quickly discover the lofty ideals contained in portions of the first two paragraphs — the self-evident truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” part — completely overshadowed by a lengthy list of grievances against King George and what the signers saw as his tyrannical rule over them.

According to the declaration, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

While we revere the declaration for these important words, the implicit purpose of the document is to declare, justify and explain to the entire world what forced our forefathers to “dissolve the political bands” that bound them to England, their mother country, and to “assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them.”

To my reading, the Declaration of Independence rejects the notion of the divine rights of and loyalty to kings in much the same way as the Protestant Reformation about 250 years earlier rejected, among other things, the divine authority of and loyalty to the pope.

The Protestant Reformation foreshadowed a period of time (1685 to 1815) known as The Age of Reason or The Enlightenment, the time of political philosophers such as John Locke (whose ideas greatly influenced the Founding Fathers), an age that also included the Scientific Revolution inhabited by figures such as the astronomer Galileo (convicted by the Inquisition of heresy because he said the Earth was not the center of the universe and that the earth and the planets revolve around the sun) and mathematician Isaac Newton.

While many in our country today continue to reject both science and reason, favoring instead some fantasy, cast-in-stone, immovable and unalterable nation based upon the Founding Fathers’ 18th century view of the world, thankfully that perspective will never stand for long because the greatest thing about America is its ability to change and adapt in response to changing times.

We amended the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, but for some of us those rights still remain elusive 209 years later. We abolished slavery, but we’re still battling racial injustice more than 165 years later. We’ve granted women suffrage, but we’re still struggling for gender equality and passage of an Equal Rights Amendment a century later. And today we face newer battles such as the effort to ensure human rights for our LGBTQ community.

The Founding Fathers were revolutionaries who risked everything for the ever-evolving cause of freedom, men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor when they signed the Declaration of Independence. I encourage every American to make that same pledge to the ideals of freedom today.

I love America most because our nation and its people are up to the challenge today as we contemplate the vision expressed in our founding documents, as we, too, struggle in our own time to forge a more perfect union exactly as our founders did. They recognized their America was a work in progress. It always has been, and it always will be. We weren’t perfect then, and we’re not perfect now, but despite all our imperfections and our many foibles, we keep our eye on the prize and keep moving inevitably forward.

Happy birthday, and may God bless America.