Friday, July 4, 2014

Can You Answer Six Simple Questions about the Declaration of Independence?

Today we celebrate the quintessential American holiday with beer and bratwurst. As a bonus, Friday was a day off from work. People parade. Picnics are held. Flags wave.

Then we blow crap up.

What is this holiday about?

What then is the true meaning of this day? You’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to realize that we have not always lived up to the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence. Yet the ideals are there. They are central to what makes this nation unique, and often great.

Can you answer six questions based on the passage that is heart and soul of this document? Do you understand what it means to be “American” today?

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; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.
                                                                                                         Thomas Jefferson
                                                                                                         July 4, 1776


The six questions:

1. Government gets its power from _____.

2. If government does not work we have the right to _____.

3. Governments are set up to _____.

4. If government works as it should everyone will be treated _____.

5. Certain basic rights cannot be taken away from you by _____.

6. Government should leave you alone to enjoy _____.


The Fourth of July isn’t just a day to set off fireworks. It’s a day to consider what this nation stands for at its best. Abraham Lincoln explained it this way:
I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration…I have often inquired of myself what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the mother land, but that something in the Declaration giving liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.

What then does the Declaration mean to us all now? Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews have equal rights on this day? Do agnostics and atheists too? They do. Let them worship or not worship as they please.

Well, what about gays? Do they have the same rights? Can they marry if they wish, for example? Conservative might not care to admit, but according to the ideals outlined in the Declaration, clearly they do.

What are the answers to the six questions above? How many did you get right?

1. Government gets its power from the people.

2. If government does not work we have the right to alter or abolish it.

3. Governments are set up to protect our rights.

4. If government works as it should everyone will be treated equally/fairly.

5. Certain basic rights cannot be taken away from you by anyone.

6. Government should leave you alone to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


If we keep those ideals in view the answers to many current questions seem clear. Was the Civil Right Act of 1964—now more than fifty years old—a great piece of legislation? It was. Does any American accused of any crime, including terrorism, have a right to be treated equally under the law? They do. Can Neo-Nazis do as they please—as long as doing what they please doesn’t infringe on the rights of others? They may.

Are you free to fly the Confederate flag on this day, on your own property, if you so desire? Of course you are.

My kids don’t have to listen to any public school teacher reading from one version of the Bible and your kids don’t have to listen to another teacher reading from the Book of Mormon.

Any attempt to deny voting privileges or make it harder for any citizen to vote is a violation of our ideals.

Even better, no one can curtail my rights or yours. We are free, within the wide limits of wise laws (see #1, #2 and #3 above where laws are unwise). The government cannot take away our rights. Neither can our neighbors.

If they don’t like the way you talk, or how you worship, or the political party you support, they are free to dislike it as much as they can. They may not control what you do. Nor may you control them. My Tea Party neighbor is as free as I am to vote for representatives of his choice. You may send a donation to the Sierra Club. Your cousin may pay to hear Sarah Palin speak. We can write our representatives and ask for more money for border control—or legislation to address climate change. We can support sending more troops back to the Middle East or we can oppose it with equal fervor. (We should, of course, study the issues, ourselves.)

Enjoy your bratwurst and beer. If you’re committed to freedom for all, then you know the true meaning of this day.

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