WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28, 2009) — This Fourth of July marks the 233rd year since the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, which separated the American colonies from British rule. Over the last 200 years, the Fourth of July has been known for its picnics, fireworks, and parades. It is truly a great American holiday.
However, this is far more than another holiday — it is a day of remembrance, a day for Americans of all religions, and creeds, and backgrounds to rejoice and give thanks for this grand and unique nation. As Americans living in 2009, it is easy to forget how much the generation of 1776 risked when they decided to break the bonds of British control and establish the first modern democratic republic. After approving the final language of the Declaration of Independence, adopting the words, “We ... solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States,” the outcome of the American Revolution was hardly a foregone conclusion. Also, members of the Continental Congress worried about the prospect of being hanged as traitors. Even if the leaders of the new republic escaped that fate, the likelihood that a confederacy of former colonies could be governed, and governed democratically, was very much in doubt.
In spite of the daunting challenges faced by our young nation, the United States of America survived and prospered. James Madison wrote in 1829, “The happy Union of these states is a wonder; their constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.” The truth of Madison’s words still resonates. Our nation has flaws, but despite these challenges, our nation holds true that the citizens of the United States of America enjoy the greatest amount of personal freedom in the world. After more than 200 years, our system of government continues to be a model for democracies old and new.
In the text of a speech that he did not live to deliver, President Kennedy wrote, “We in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.” As watchmen, we should be mindful of the ideals outlined in the Declaration of 1776, rededicate ourselves to preserving the liberty and freedoms that our Founding Fathers fought to win and strive to be worthy of admiration by freedom loving people the world over.
Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at http://www.house.gov/skelton.