On July 4, we celebrate the words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Imbued with the revolutionary fervor now referred to as the Spirit of ’76, he penned “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.”
Many Americans today do not know why we celebrate July 4. We take our freedoms and our responsibilities for granted. It is important we know and understand our country’s history.
Independence Day is important not just because it marks the separation of the United States from Great Britain and the creation of a new nation. It is important because the form of government created — democracy — changed not only the continent of North America, but truly the world.
The ideas and institutions created by the founders have become the model for economic and political success in the modern world. Representative democracy swept away monarchical dynasties in Europe in the 1800s. In the past century, it defeated fascism in Germany and Japan and communism in the Soviet Union.
The verdict of history is in. We know what works — a representative government where the people elect their leaders, a market economy where the people make millions of financial decisions, a secular state where the people choose individually how they will worship and the rule of law that presumes equal justice for all.
This conventional wisdom of today was anything but conventional in 1776. It was revolutionary, risky and highly improbable. Looking back through the lens of history, the outcome of the American Revolution seems inevitable. In fact, it was not. Freedom has triumphed through the years, but has often been challenged.
Our experiment in self-government has been tested by economic crises and wars. Abraham Lincoln wanted to insure “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” John Kennedy pledged “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
The generations of Americans before us have kept the Spirit of ’76 alive. We have a political legacy and heritage, begun on July 4, 1776, that we must keep alive. That starts with voting.
2011 is an election year in Mississippi. There will be many candidates for office on the ballot. Statewide there is no incumbent running for governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer or commissioner of agriculture. All seats in the state legislature will be decided this year. Locally, there are numerous candidates running for circuit clerk, sheriff and other positions. With so many names on the ballot, it is not easy to be an educated voter. As good citizens we owe it to those who came before us, not to mention those still fighting overseas for us, to make informed decisions on election day.
When asked what kind of government America had created, Benjamin Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” He meant a healthy democracy depends upon the active and informed involvement of the people. As we eat barbecue and watch fireworks this holiday weekend, let us also remember the Spirit of ’76 and do our part to ensure the continued success of the American experiment.
William “Brother” Rogers lives in Starkville and works with the Stennis Center for Public Service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .