Wednesday, July 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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In 1776, representatives from the American colonies assembled in Philadelphia and approved the Declaration of Independence, formally announcing separation from Great Britain.
It was more than an official notice to the British crown; the declaration laid out founding principles and ideas of the United States of America, including this famous statement:
“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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The declaration has shaped the American imagination with such proclamations. There is, however, an inherent tension in the Founding Fathers’ vision between the role of the federal government and states and individual rights. It was at the center of the Civil War, and the tension is always present because people have different beliefs about what America should be.
That has been evident in the political fights in recent years. A survey released in June by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans’ values and basic beliefs are deeply split along partisan lines. The divide was the worst in the survey’s 25 years.
That’s unfortunate, but it’s not disastrous. The Founding Fathers ingeniously created ways to handle conflicts and protect liberty and rights.
America was created with a baseline of rights and freedom. The country was steeped in a brand of liberty that hadn’t fully been seen at the time. The “American experiment,” as some historians have dubbed it, put trust in the citizens to work within the framework of the Constitution. It has worked remarkably well.
Not that America was or is perfect. It is a shame that it took several generations before all men — and women — were granted the full rights of citizenship. It is notable, though, that the victories in suffrage, civil rights and other areas came as people worked through the government the Founders established, using the liberties and freedoms they had.
Despite the nation’s recent divide, we have hope for the future because of the liberty and freedom Americans have.
We are reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s musings at the constitutional convention in 1787. As the last of the members were signing the Constitution, he pointed out the chair convention President George Washington had used, which was crowned by a sun peeking over the horizon. Franklin said as he considered the issues throughout the debate, he had “looked at that (sun) behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting, sun.”
The sun is still rising on America. Ours is a country with a great future due to the way it was founded and the generations of Americans who have paved the way to continue our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Long may it continue.
Happy Independence Day.