July 4th. Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence: the day on which we declared ourselves a nation, independent of the monarchy of England.
This is our national holiday. Our fireworks don't commemorate a treaty signed, a battle, or the national patron saint. Our day of national identity—our natality—is the day on which we declared ourselves—declared all men—to be free.
The day that we celebrate that which makes us American commemorates a Declaration.
Words on paper, signed and sealed in a tiny little hall in a provincial town.
A ringing cry of freedom and truth that has influenced every acknowledgment of human rights or privileges which came after it. That has shaped us as Americans for more than 230 years. That a group of wealthy white farmers used to pledge to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor in a way that could not be forgotten or ignored or denied.
The words first read to me by my second-grade teacher have a force and passion, a thundering certainty which is offset by their simplicity: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...
Self-evident: So obvious that it is apparent to anyone seeing the thing in question. Regard this human being: She is neither more nor less than you. She holds the same privileges you do; she is endowed by her Creator with certain unalienable Rights...
We hold these truths to be self-evident.
Not by any means the first formulation of the idea, no. But it is the most powerful—both rhetorically and in terms of its consequences—for the men who lent their sacred Honor to its utterance, and for the world which they forced to listen.
I love the Fourth of July, love the apple pie and hot dogs and fireworks. But the privilege, the bounty that I'm celebrating as I look at the gorgeous blooms of sparks filling the sky, is one of words.
The words that are my heritage. My inheritance.
I am a citizen of the country who planted her foot by its Declaration of identity, of human rights and human dignity, with fortitude and fervor and a new flag. Who made them indelible. Who gave them to the world forever.
I, like every American, am heir to that dangerous, potent idea. I have inherited it—and all the responsibilities it conveys.
Because that idea is the thing that makes us who we are and defines who we should be. The thing gives July 4th and every other day lived under our flag its meaning.
Because I am American, and Americans 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...