Today we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which told the world that the United States of America were a new, free, and independent republic joining the community of nations. This new Republic would in fact change and shape the course of western civilization and the world for the two centuries that followed and beyond. The author of the Declaration was 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson. The other signatories averaged 44 years of age, with a dozen under the age of 35, and only three senior citizens among the group. Unsurprisingly for the time, they were all white men, middle class to affluent, and every bit as flawed and imperfect as you or I. While it is easy to find fault with them individually or with the society from which they sprang, I believe it is indisputable that the pure principles they communicated to the world through the Declaration are transcendent, and among the greatest philosophical and political achievements in history.
Ultimately, it is the stated principles that founded our Republic which we should celebrate. We should aspire to these principles, not the worship of people or symbols or jingoism, nor ridicule of the same. I suspect a great many people want transmuted greatness, riding the coattails of our Founding Fathers without any real effort on our part. Others seem content to sit back and attack the historical myriad of contradictions and hypocrisies in the practical application of our stated principles, thus theoretically negating the principles as invalid. Neither of those is particularly constructive for the present nor future.
My question is, how do we live those principles now? Our Independence Day should serve as not only a celebration but also a challenge: Do we live up to the principles upon which our Republic was founded? Not collectively, as that’s too big a problem for any one of us to solve. I mean individually. Am I living the type of life worthy of the efforts of my forebears, and am I acting as an engine of progress in my own right? Am I doing my part to make America great today and into the future? What am I personally doing that makes my household, my community, my state, and my country a better place? What can I do more of because it betters myself and others? What should I do less of because it is unhelpful and toxic? Is any task too small of which to take notice? I think not. Every single action we take informs who we are and thus our place in and impact on society at large. The goal should always be to become the kind of citizens most worthy of liberty, and most responsible in its exercise.
However great or disappointing we find America’s history (and to be sure there’s plenty of both), we get to decide how great our future is. I mentioned the Signers ages for a very specific reason: Don’t wait until you’re “older and wiser” to embark on endeavors which better yourself, your community, and your fellow man. If you do, “older and wiser” might become “old, tired, and compromised, and mailing it in.” Start today. Commit to doing what you can do to be a better person, a better friend, a better citizen, and do your part to make America great today and tomorrow in demonstrable ways. Rather than asking whether or not our country is great enough for us to be proud, let’s ask if we’re proud enough of our own individual actions to ensure our country’s present and future greatness.