When Thomas Jefferson finished drafting the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, he and the other Founders launched the revolution that resulted in our independence from Great Britain and the beginning of a unique experiment in representative government.
The Founders asserted America’s independence by claiming that certain truths are self evident, according to the “laws of nature and nature’s God.” They designed a political framework for our nation based on liberty, equality, and a limited government that derives its authority “from the consent of the governed.”
More than two centuries later, the America that began with 2.5 million immigrants struggling to survive on a vast, new continent has become the freest, most prosperous nation on Earth — the world’s standard bearer of democracy, open markets, and the rule of law. It is precisely because our ancestors embraced the Founders’ vision that America has achieved such greatness.
But do our founding principles endure in their true form today? In these tumultuous times, as government grows ever larger and more intrusive, many Americans fear their country has veered off course, in a direction inconsistent with our founding ideals. Fortunately, this has caused citizens to become more engaged in matters of public policy, and one of their chief demands is that we restore America’s first principles.
In his compelling new book, “We Still Hold These Truths,” Heritage Foundation scholar Matthew Spalding offers a detailed blueprint for doing just that. Spalding argues that, owing to the decline of civics education and the rise of the entitlement state, knowledge of our founding principles has declined. The erosion of constitutional literacy has sowed confusion about America’s national identity. This problem has been exacerbated by the disturbingly popular belief that our founding principles are outdated; that each generation should decide for itself the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Spalding urges us to make “a commitment at every level of education to promote awareness and appreciation of the true principles of America’s founding.”
Our Founding Fathers knew that the constant renewal of civic knowledge was critical to the health of our democracy. Realizing their vision means transcending partisan ideologies and embracing our nation’s history; it means immersing ourselves, and our children, in the classical liberalism and Judeo-Christian philosophy that inspired our founding documents.
Spalding’s book provides a perfect example of what a renewed civics education should look like. It illuminates 10 core principles that define our national creed — including liberty, equality, religious freedom, private property, and the rule of law — discusses their intellectual origins, and explains why they are still relevant today (perhaps more so than ever).
I have long believed that it’s our duty as Americans to educate young people about the ideological foundations of our great democracy. If current and future generations do not understand or appreciate our political inheritance, they will be less likely to recognize when their constitutional freedoms are being eroded.
This July 4th, let’s reflect on the principles that make our country so unique, and recommit ourselves to the cause of civic education.
As President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.