After a public reading of the Declaration of Independence at Bowling Green, on July 9, 1776, New Yorkers pulled down the statue of King George III. Parts of the statue were reportedly melted down and used for bullets. (Source, Source)
For much of my lifetime, people—including many that should know better—have discoursed at length on whether history is “relevant” in our modern era. I wonder if that is because too many Americans simply don’t know much of their own history. For example, how many Americans today support these political sentiments?:
In Congress, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
— Declaration of Independence, beginning. Read the whole thing, here.
High ideals, and they sparked the creation of a new nation aspiring to rational self-government. Our American experiment has since inspired other revolutions and the creation of new democracies, from the French Revolution onwards.
But let’s also remember that the Founders and their successors didn’t always “get it right,” whether with Declaration of Independence in 1776 (all “men” may be created equal, but how about women, Native Americans or Black Americans?), or the Articles of Confederation of 1777 (a weak federal government didn’t work well after all), or the United States Constitution of 1789 (slavery and the “three-fifths compromise” were bad in 1789, and only got worse over time).
Americans that remember history know that our nation has always been a work in progress, continually striving to fulfill the Founders’ ardent declaration that all “…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.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Independence Day is rightly celebrated as the bold beginning of our Republic. But if we are going to live up to the noble words of the Constitution and “… form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” then we need to learn from history and never forget that there is—always—more work to do.
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.Frederick Douglass, “West India Emancipation,” speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857 (Source)