Two hundred and forty-one years have passed since the great Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. In that time Americans have watched the coming and going of 45 executive administrations, 115 United States Congresses, wars great and small, and economic booms and busts of all shapes and sizes.
In that time, we have gone from a voting citizenry composed only of white, landowning men, to all white men, to all men, to all adults – including women, a triumph of incalculable magnitude when weighed beside the rest of history.
In that time, we have rid ourselves of institutional slavery, forbidden child labor, hemmed in the standard workweek to forty hours, broken a myriad of stigmas against women and minorities in the workplace, and established minimum wages – in some places living wages, a realization of the worth of a person’s toil that puts to shame all the years of peasantry, serfdom, and thralldom that have come before us.
In that time, we have revolutionized technology many times over, altered the nature of transportation, multiplied our capacity to produce food, eradicated ancient diseases, and wandered the skies and the stars – an achievement to be found only in the dreams of dreams in the ancient world.
We have come far.
It is easy to lose sight of how far we have come in the last 241 years.
Lately we have been reminded that these measures of progress we have achieved, the small victories won out against the long march of an often miserable, cruel, and conflict-ridden human history, are in truth tenuous.
The values that patriotic Americans hold – the love of liberty, the enduring pursuit of happiness, and the belief in the equality of living human beings – these values and the virtues that arise in practice from holding them cannot be taken for granted.
Independence, a root idea which helps give rise to these values and virtues, does not stand on its own accord. Independence only stands when patriots believe in it enough to do something about it. A thoughtful, informed vote, a good word on behalf of freedom for the oppressed, a kind act done for someone in need, an honest deed undertaken without the desire for praise or reward – all these patriotic works flow into independence and progress flows out again.
That is the essence of patriotism – the essence of independence.
It is not skin-deep. It is not measured by the number of American flags plastered on windows or shirts or bumper stickers or television screens. It does not reside in songs, buildings, companies, industries, regions, or the land itself.
Independence resides in the hearts and minds of patriots, in their disposition towards the world, towards the Rule of Law over the rule of men, towards their fellow human beings as worthy of all the dignity and liberty they afford themselves.
In the day of bullies and subjugators, liars and men of violence, the patriot must remain independent of these dreadful echoes of monarchy and tyranny.
To that end, patriots must live out the values and virtues that they honor with words.
It is in this spirit of independence, this spirit of patriotism, this spirit of right action and good nature that we remind all our fellows that we stand with them and wish all American patriots a happy Independence Day.