At a time when Americans are divided, Republicans from Democrats, conservatives from liberals, hawks from doves, the war on terrorism from the war on poverty, it’s important to remember the glue that holds us all together.
What makes Americans is unique among the world’s nations is so obvious when you give it a little thought. Every other country was founded upon geographic convenience, a common ethnic, or some accident of history. Other countries are dominated by their ethos, cultural or racial origins and traditions. The French in France, Spaniards in Spain, Germans in Germany, Japanese in Japan, Russians in Russia.
The United States, on the other hand, is a multi-racial country of many cultural, spiritual and racial backgrounds. It was founded on a statement of principles.
Those principles are found in a document adopted 230 years ago today -- the Declaration of Independence; the reason we celebrate the Fourth of July as one of our most revered holidays.
“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.”
So goes one of the Declaration’s most well-known and quoted passages -- and a crystal clear statement of this nation’s central theme, natural law.
Natural law is the law that is universal and self-evident, ingrained in the reason of all people, and created by God.
The connection between natural law and God now makes some Americans uncomfortable. But the Declaration’s God does not belong to any single religion. It is not complicated by our desire to separate church from state. Rather, it is God, the author of natural law.
It is from natural law, not from any human ruler, that we derive our rights. Therefore, no one can take them away. With that principle as foundation, the Declaration sets forth three other principles.
With the words “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another,” the Declaration established the principle of self-determination. Americans are “one people” with the right to create their own government.
The Declaration goes on to establish that governments get their power from “the consent of the governed,” forming the basis of our democracy. And the Declaration established “the right of the people to alter or to abolish” government.
These, then, are the principles upon which the United States was founded: Our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness derive from natural law, and to secure those rights we have established a government of our own, which owes its authority to our consent.
On Tuesday, July 4th, Independence Day, we celebrate these principles, which make us all Americans.