July Fourth is our boys’ favorite holiday. They love summer, cookouts, family gatherings, and especially, fireworks. This year, with so much of America in turmoil, we want to teach our boys about the sometimes overlooked meaning behind the Fourth of July.
In 1817, John Adams lamented that Americans had forgotten their history. They had forgotten the significance of their fight for independence. It was not long after that Americans began celebrating the Fourth of July. In today’s tumultuous times, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the economy and on the well-being of so many families, and with racial tensions flaring nationwide, the Fourth of July is a call to once again remember our shared history.
The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence sets forth the United States of America’s fundamental guiding principle: “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 Founders recognized the self-evident truth that we are all created equal. Each and every person has something unique and valuable to contribute to the American family. And when any part of our nation is not thriving, whether it be people from a certain race, geographic region, income-level, or nationality, we not only deny those groups of people the ability to flourish, but also miss out on the benefits of a fully functioning society.
July Fourth is all about freedom. The Declaration of Independence lays out the principle that every American is endowed by God with unalienable rights – rights the government may not take away, like the right to pursue life, liberty, religious freedom, and meaningful work. In a year in which Covid-19 has caused so many American workers to have lost jobs or been furloughed, the liberties to provide for one’s family and to valuably contribute to society have never meant more.
The Declaration of Independence goes on to enunciate the right of individuals to govern themselves. As the Federalist Papers explain, this right of self-government safeguards all of our other rights. The Declaration lays out a list of ways in which the British government had infringed upon the liberty of those living in America — by, for example, taxing without representation, doing away with the rule of law, and eliminating the right to trial by jury. The colonists fought for the right to influence the laws under which they lived and secured this right for us, their posterity. The words of the Declaration of Independence are not merely aspirational, they underlay the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and subsequent constitutional amendments that seek to secure liberty for every American.
At its most fundamental, the Declaration of Independence recognizes that any good system of government derives its power from the consent of the governed. It gives voice to the democratic principle, later enshrined in our Constitution, that it is the government that serves the people and not the other way round.
In America today, we are in danger of losing sight of these founding principles, and, thus, the right to self-government. Too often the laws that govern us are made, not by our elected representatives in Congress, but by unelected and unaccountable administrative agencies or judges. Administrative agencies, for instance, decide everything from whether a farmer may plough her field to what sort of insurance coverage employers must provide.
And the Supreme Court today decides nearly every important social and economic issue of our time. This expansion of the judicial role would have been unthinkable to those who risked their lives for the right to govern themselves. They would never have ceded that right to unelected judges. As the late-Justice Antonin Scalia put it, when the Court takes issues away from the representative branches, it “robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”
The Declaration that we celebrate on July Fourth is, as Abraham Lincoln explained, “a rebuke … to tyranny and oppression.” It sets forth principles that are as important today as they were in 1776. The best way to ensure that American liberty and freedom endure is to commit to teaching our children our nation’s history and its founding principles — a wonderful resource is IWF’s How to Talk to Your Kids About Patriotism. As for our family, we plan to talk to our small kiddos about the brave men and women who fought to secure our liberty at least as much as we talk about fireworks.