Fourth of July is a celebration of independence, a time to pay tribute to our nation, its founders and the men and women who in so many ways have made her great.
This year, we celebrate 243 years of freedom and democracy, but the desire for liberty has burned in the souls of men and women far longer. It was the desire for independence that first brought the early settlers to this country. Their dream was of creating a society free of the flaws and inequities of the Old World. They wanted something different.
At the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony more than 389 years ago, John Winthrop said, “For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” Those words are as true today as they were then. American remains a “city on a hill” that is looked upon for inspiration and direction by the free world. It is appropriate that we reflect on that role and its responsibilities as we celebrate the 243rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
It is even more appropriate if we also consider another important anniversary that receives less attention, but is just as important. The Declaration of Independence was only the beginning for our nation. We weren’t really a nation until nearly 13 years later, when, on March 4, 1789, the U.S. Constitution was officially recognized as the supreme law of the land.
We sometimes forget what a remarkable document our Constitution is. It has endured through war and peace, through depressions and prosperity, through times of trial and times of comfort. The document is so versatile and adaptable that through 230 years we have seen fit to amend it only 27 times, and that includes the original 10 amendments – the Bill of Rights.
If there is any document that signifies to the rest of the world that we are, indeed, a “city on a hill,” it is certainly our Constitution. This Constitution has preserved the rule of the majority, protected the rights of the minority and provided a balance that prevents any one branch of government from dominating the other two.
It is a tribute to the framers of the Constitution that our government has served as the model for hundreds of other governments throughout the world. With variations, we can find the imprint of the American Constitution on the governments in many nations on many different continents.
The American Constitution established a government of laws, not a government of men. In the age of Kings, our Constitution established a government that would be ruled, not by divine right, but by compromise and consensus among men guided by legal principles.
Our form of government provides a flexible structure in which society functions. That’s the beauty of it. Although personal opinions vary widely on what level of government involvement is appropriate in the daily lives of our citizens, I join with my Republican colleagues in advocating less government and more of the personal responsibility that comes with freedom.
The Fourth of July is a glorious and exciting holiday. It conjures up wonderful images – colonists defiantly tossing tea into Boston Harbor; Paul Revere astride his horse dashing wildly through the countryside to warn of the Redcoat invasion; Patrick Henry rising before the Virginia Convention and declaring “Give me liberty or give me death.”
In contrast, the Constitution does not usually evoke such stirring visions. The Constitutional Convention began meeting in May 1787 and by September had produced a document to be submitted to the states for their consideration. The debate over the Constitution was fierce at times, but it could not compare to the rhetoric that preceded independence or the valor that characterized the Revolutionary War.
But without the Constitution, the fight for liberty would have been meaningless. The Constitution is the map that has led this country through more than two centuries.
The Fourth of July is a time to renew our commitment to our democratic form of government. The turmoil in much of the world right now should remind us how very lucky we are to be able to exercise our rights … to vote, to voice our opinions, to worship as we wish, to choose our own careers.
As we stand here today, we remember the sacrifices every American has made to preserve these rights. As we eat our picnic lunches or watch fireworks light up the sky, it is important that we salute all of America’s sons and daughters whose courage has kept us free. We owe so much to all who have served the cause of freedom, of democracy and of independence.
President Ronald Reagan summed it up pretty well when he said, “We’re blessed with the opportunity to stand for something – for liberty and freedom and fairness. And these are things worth fighting for, worth devoting our lives to.”
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.