Sunday, July 4, 2010

4th of July

On the 4th of July, I like to use the day to contemplate all that is good and right about our country, its people and its form of government.

Two hundred and forty-four years ago, on this day, a group of men agreed to a statement declaring independence from a tyrannical government. At the time that Great Britain was accused of this heinous crime, it was the freest country in the world. Still, it fell short of a government for free and independent men.

That document was a declaration of independence not just for a band of British colonists, but for all of humanity:

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 full and consistent application of the the principle of equal individual rights has yet to occur in this country or elsewhere-but this document correctly names the proper principle to guide our social an political interactions; the mutual respect of the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Even such a clear, concise statement is open to varying interpretation unless we rigorously define each and every salient term. What is meant by equal? Unalienable? Liberty? The pursuit of happiness?

From the second major crisis of liberty which our country faced, I'd like to add the following quote in an attempt to extend our understanding:

Baltimore, Maryland, April 18, 1864

...The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name---liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names---liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf's dictionary, has been repudiated.


Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7.

Have a wonderful 4th of July.

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