The Self-Evident Celebration
Abraham Lincoln was concerned about the Fourth of July. Long before he was our 16th president, he expressed his opinion that the Independence Day celebrations no longer focused on the Declaration of Independence. As he cleverly put it: “The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day—for burning fire-crackers!!!”
President Lincoln’s reservations didn’t extend to the Declaration of Independence itself. He was a fervent believer in the importance of the document that announced the intention of the colonies to break free from British rule. It was the catalyst for the American Revolution. Lincoln saw in the Declaration of Independence the foundational values and great ideals of the young and growing United States.
While Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War, he framed the conflict in the context of the Declaration. When the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi at Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863—Independence Day—Lincoln spoke to the crowd outside the White House and reaffirmed the issues at the very heart of the Civil War when he said, “On the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, ‘turned tail’ and ran.”
In November of that year, when Lincoln spoke at the site of the great Battle of Gettysburg, it was the Declaration of Independence that he pinpointed as the birth of the nation when he opened his address by saying, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
They are words almost as familiar as the second sentence of the Declaration itself. Written by Thomas Jefferson, well known by President Lincoln, and revered by all Americans, it reads: “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.”
In the great tradition of Mr. Lincoln, let us not allow the July 4 celebrations to be mostly about firecrackers. Let us instead recall and reclaim the ideals of the Declaration of Independence that should be “self-evident” to every American, since they form the basis of our democracy, our republic, and our life together. On Independence Day we reassert that all humans are created equal. And that the rights of every person include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Happy Independence Day! May our patriotic pride and purpose be self-evident!