On Independence Day I often think of Lincoln’s speech dedicating the battlefield cemetery at Gettysburg. Brief by any standard, Lincoln’s words derive their potency not from prose but from the substance of what Lincoln was affirming, in particular the final paragraph.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln reminds us all that Independence Day was a starting point for something bigger than any one man, an ideal that men are endowed with rights that no government can take away and equally important that government itself derives it’s power from those willing to be governed. That we are able to enjoy these self-evident truths today is a result of countless generations of men and women before us who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend these freedoms that the Founding Fathers put pen to parchment on this day in 1776.
As we celebrate the Declaration of Independence today let us not forget that “great task remaining before us” that around the world far too many peoples suffer under oppressive regimes and immoral governments, women are second class, being gay will bring a death sentence, and the right to criticize one’s government and seek redress is not absolute. To fall into the trap of accepting that in some cultures all men are not created equal is a betrayal of the very core of what it means to be American.