Independence Day is our most sacred national holiday. It was ordained as a day of celebration, but also one of sober reflection upon the causes that led prominent personages in 1776 to risk their lives, liberty and property to abjure the depredations of a remote government.
The Declaration of Independence — the reading of which is almost as integrally a part of the day’s celebrations as picnics and fireworks — was a careful stating of those insurrectionists’ beliefs regarding their rights as free men. It led to years of war and even more years of struggle in forging a new nation in the aftermath of that great conflict.
The constitutional government that emerged, binding the 13 states into a single union, was not anticipated by any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Their focus in 1776 was on obtaining a release from the dictates of a government in England many had come to regard as eminently foreign. And the purpose of that release was to protect the rights and freedoms each of the signers felt he was bequeathed at birth, but which that foreign government had threatened.
However, the triumphs of reason and reasonableness that gave us our Constitution and Bill of Rights ensured for generations of Americans the essential freedoms for which our Founding Fathers risked all 236 years ago.
Our duty to their sacrifice is, as George Santayana put it, to “… remember the past.” We must remember not just the blood that was shed at our nation’s birth – we must remember the many differences of opinion and belief that were resolved to craft a new government that has endured for more than two centuries.
Our democratic processes are being corrupted by the combination of technology and unlimited expenditures of money by those who would subvert the example set by our forefathers. This threatens to reduce our elections solely to exercises of profligacy and propagandizing, inundating the electorate with a mind-numbing cascade of political pablum, and awarding victory to the highest bidder.
Virtually extinct are substantive discourses on the great issues that confront our nation, or meaningful conversations about compromise in finding solutions. Instead, the people – and their elected representatives – have become polarized to such an extent that our government has devolved into a “winner-take-all” mentality.
In such a climate, the semblance of democracy in the functioning of our electoral processes belies the grave peril our hard-won freedoms now face.
If Independence Day is to have any real meaning, it must be a time for contemplation of how far afield our political processes have drifted since the founding of this country. It must be a time for recommitment to the ideals of historical awareness, reasonable accommodation and the preservation of all our guaranteed rights, not just for a privileged few, but for every American.
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