On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence.
That day marked the beginning of a new world where people would not be governed by monarchs and despots but by each other. The Declaration expressed the great ideals of freedom and equality: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”
Our constant desire to realize those ideals invoked by Jefferson in the Declaration are the quintessential story of America.
They were the same ideals invoked by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863. With the country torn in two over the issue of slavery, he reminded people that our nation was “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and he resolved that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Over 360,000 Union soldiers died to guarantee that these great American ideals would live on.
They were the same ideals invoked by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington D.C. in 1963. When he saw our country still failing to fully realize those ideals, he reminded us that they are the core of who we are as a society and that we must strive to realize them for every American: “When the architects of our Great Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
In 2021, inspired by the progress of leaders like Jefferson, Lincoln, and King, we continue to strive toward the realization of true liberty and equality for all. It is the noblest of goals and one for which every generation of Americans has fought and sacrificed.
During the Revolutionary War, John Adams wrote, “Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
Every single day, it is our duty to use that freedom to continue striving toward the lofty and honorable goal of guaranteeing liberty and justice for every single American so we can hand freedom, equality, and self-government to the next generation in even better shape than it was handed to us.