Seven score and seventeen years ago, in his inspired speech at the 1863 dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery, President Lincoln delivered these immortal words: “…our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Four score and seven years earlier, one of those “fathers,” an inspired Thomas Jefferson (with suggestions from no less an able editor than Ben Franklin), authored what is arguably the most momentous secular document in history. The second paragraph of America’s Declaration of Independence begins with this passionate passage:
“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.”
Having the spirit, vision, and courage to declare independence at a time when monarchy was the globally-accepted model of government was unprecedented. In fighting for those principles then and defending them from within and without for more than two centuries since, America became legendary.
To be sure, the land of the free and the home of the brave has had lapses in the delivery of some of these tenets. Indeed, while trying to save his beloved, but war-torn nation, Lincoln declared: “We made the experiment, and the fruit is before us.”
The best word to describe the American “experiment” is abundance. To appropriate Lincoln’s metaphor, America is like a forest that perennially repurposes finite natural elements into a seemingly infinite bounty of new fruit that previously did not exist.
It’s axiomatic that America will always be a work in progress; seeking perfection is a fool’s errand. But today, Americans of all backgrounds – every one – can claim the liberty to pursue the blessing of abundance for themselves. And then, empowered by the same liberty, simultaneously employ our codified processes to repair, reform, and redress any fruit found wanting.
Lincoln’s experiment will not long last unless as a nation we sustain devotion to those proven processes which, in their availability to every citizen, is the essence of America. Why else would millions of people all over the world desire to leave their home to live here?
Our national journey of understanding has had many waypoints, where new things were learned and wrongs were righted. And as we push further into the 21st century in pursuit of growth and redemption, we’ll surely discover more moments that challenge us.
But in terms of contribution to the world, Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill” has an incomparable record. Warts and all, the United States of America is still a benefactor nation unlike any in history, with arguably billions of global beneficiaries having been inspired by our ideals and blessed by our generosity.
As Jefferson reasoned, freedom isn’t an American franchise – it’s a blessing from God found around the world. But freedom to pursue dreams wherever they take us is the very American ideal we call liberty. Liberty is a contract we give to each other every day as we pledge devotion to the secular scripture from whence we claim that promise, the Constitution of the United States. Thank you, Founders.
The American experiment took the blessing of freedom and the ideal of liberty and created entrepreneurship, the energy that has powered the American Dream for centuries. Since World War II, that energy has become our most valuable export. And the fruit of entrepreneurial energy transcends business, as confirmed by 19th-century French economist, Frederick Bastiat, who proposed that “when goods cross borders, armies don’t.”
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been essential to millions of American entrepreneurs. Generations have been at once beneficiaries and stewards of liberty as they claimed the American Dream for themselves and perpetuated it for others. Thank you, small business owners.
This week, in the year of the Mayflower quadrennial, Americans celebrate another Independence Day, holding freedom of expression as our prime and most precious right. Indeed, the first sentence of the immortal First Amendment to the Constitution includes this declaration/promise: “Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech …”
We don’t have to agree on anything else to hold this truth to be self-evident, non-negotiable, and immutable: Any assault on freedom of speech – in any nuanced form, by any aggrieved entity – is an assault on the future of America. If we lose this, we lose everything.
This year, perhaps more than any other time since Gettysburg, as we claim liberty and deploy it with equal measures of passion and compassion, let’s pledge to each other a renewed devotion to the spirit of Lincoln’s closing prayer so beautifully conveyed in his first Inaugural Address. That the relationships we forge with each other shall be “touched by the better angels of our nature.”
Write this on a rock … Happy Independence Day, America. We stand on awesome shoulders. Will history show ours so sturdy?