“Refresh our Recollections of These Rights”

Happy Independence Day. Whatever you do today to celebrate our nation’s birth, take time to follow the advice of Thomas Jefferson and reflect on the document that gives this day its meaning:

[M]ay [the Declaration of Independence] be to the world, what I believe it will be… the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings & security of self-government. [T]hat form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. [A]ll eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man… that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. [T]hese are grounds of hope for others. [F]or ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Jefferson wrote that in a letter on June 24, 1826, respectfully declining an invitation to the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, because of poor health. He passed away ten days later, on the 4th of July.

If you don’t have time to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence (available here), at least think about the most important part: “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, “

These words were so powerful that Abraham Lincoln credited its authors with foresight and wisdom and used their words to condemn slavery. During a campaign speech on August 17, 1858, while running for the U.S. Senate, Lincoln said:

In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take course to renew the battle which their fathers began.

At least for today, put aside any petty squabbles among political factions (the government’s closed today anyway). Reflect on the blessings of liberty, and celebrate the truly unique document that created our nation and acknowledged our freedoms as gifts from God, not government.

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