Independence Day celebrations usually call for parades, barbecues, quality time with family and friends, and of course, fireworks.
This year, as we watch the fireworks that symbolize and celebrate our independence, let’s reflect upon the special principles on which our country was built and the American spirit that has endured from 1776 to today.
What makes our nation and her people so special?
When Thomas Jefferson finished drafting the Declaration of Independence 233 years ago, he and the other Founders risked their lives and took a monumental step toward freedom. They launched the revolution that resulted in our independence from Britain and, ultimately, our own unique government.
Unlike a monarchy, America’s democratic republic was founded on an idea, rather than an accident of geography or a tribal identity.
But for people in other countries, the government existed first, and rights flowed from the government. Our government is a reflection of the people; it is a government from the bottom up. Our basic rights do not come from the state. They are inherent in us.
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “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.”
Jefferson and the Founders believed that God gave us all the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Judeo-Christian teachings reveal that we are all, children of God, made in God’s own image.
While our theoretical social contract with the government has resulted in our voluntarily ceding some of our freedoms as individuals to the state for the benefit of our collective protection and activity, that is a voluntary decision that flows directly from the people; or as put in the Declaration of Independence, “the consent of the governed.”
In fact, all of our founding documents uphold this same idea about our government being the sum of its people. “We the People” is how our Constitution begins.
To take just one more example of many, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote in the Federalist Papers, “The people are the only legitimate fountain of power and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived.”
So, as the people, what are our responsibilities to ensure that this freedom is preserved so that the government reflects our pure, collective will?
Our government is not automatically self-perpetuating, unlike a monarchy. Knowledge about our history and values must be renewed from generation to generation. Understanding our past tells us who we are and equips us with the knowledge we need to face the challenges presented to us today, and in the future.
John Adams once said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”
Indeed, if future generations do not appreciate what we have, why it’s so precious, and why it needs defending, they won’t have much reason to believe they should do what’s necessary to protect America’s promise.
I believe it’s our duty as Americans to educate young people about these principles and values. They’re not just ideals to aspire to. Their importance must not diminish. And July 4 is a great time to be reminded of this.
U.S. Senator Jon Kyl is the Assistant Republican Leader and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees.