On July 4th, a country like no other celebrates its 247th birthday. Over two centuries after its foundation, the United States of America stands tall above those who attempted to tear it apart. Unique in its history, traditions, people, and nature, America the Beautiful proudly turns a year older. In times of uncertainty and division, let us remember the values that still make America great.
"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."
For the first time in history, the Founding Fathers suggested that human rights did not come from any individual monarch or emperor. It was not a government that endowed human beings with rights. It was God. There were natural rights common to all men, aristocrats and peasants alike. America's revolutionary philosophy spread the fire of liberty, republicanism, and equality worldwide. The Declaration of Independence inspired trailblazing freedom fighters on all seven continents for centuries and continues to do so today.
Slavery was a pure contradiction within America: a country born free could not uphold its values while keeping millions of people in chains. The contradiction was so strong that Americans fought against each other in a violent civil war over the nation's soul. In the South, aristocrats dominated the land, enslaving, usurping, and bullying everyone into submission. That was not the America envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Freedom won, as it will multiple times in the history of the United States.
This history of injustice, discrimination, and violence perpetrated on Native Americans and African Americans through the very institutions of the US Government contradicted the principles of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, violating the idea of America. Americans fought since the start against the abomination of slavery. In 1777, Vermont partially abolished slavery; in 1780, Pennsylvania abolished slavery for all future children of current slaves; in 1783, Massachusetts' Supreme Court ruled slavery unconstitutional. No other country on Earth abolished slavery, ended segregation, and worked on discrimination so quickly and successfully as the United States did in just two centuries. Today, millions of Americans are represented in Congress by men and women whose grandparents had once been enslaved. Tim Scott from the State of South Carolina is an African American Senator whose father lived through segregation and whose grandfather worked on a plantation as a slave. America is the only country where this has been true. In Europe, nations who had owned slaves came to repudiate it after centuries of practice, and even then, the abolition of slavery never represented a priority.
America is not perfect, but its values are. Since its foundation, America has been a land of opportunity for anyone who wants to build a different future for their children and grandchildren. Birthright citizenship was an enormous achievement that propelled America's future success. For the countless families who migrated from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States was the promised land where hard work could improve one's and their families' lives. A country founded by brave men who believed in democratic representation, sacrificed everything for an ideal, and died as martyrs (inspiring countless souls) was and is an example for the world. America is the place to be.
Even in today's circumstances, where migration is debated and sometimes frowned upon, America is unique. France is struggling with its past of failed integration, as are many other European countries. America, on the other hand, has done it over and over again. President Ronald Reagan once said: "You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American." Because of its history, America is the only country where integration and acceptance are genuinely possible. Young Kim and Michelle Steel are two Korean Americans who migrated as children to the US and are today representatives in Congress. Like them, many other immigrants of Chinese, Italian, Irish, German, and Indian descent have achieved success in America.
America's love for freedom is also unique. No other country in the entire world has such great freedom of speech and enterprise. America is free. America is powerful. America is great. Activists like saying that everything in America is flawed, built on someone else's blood and pain, that its values are fundamentally wrong, and that there can be nothing but criticism for the place they call home. The country they are describing is not America. America is where racial injustice, inequality, and discrimination of all forms are discussed daily, and progress is constantly made, despite hiccups.
America is always worth fighting for. For the Founding Fathers, the martyrs of the Civil War, the boys who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, and the men and women of the Civil Rights movement, it's always worth it. As President Clinton said, "There is nothing wrong in America that cannot be cured by what is right in America."
Happy 247th birthday, America.
(Cover image copyright of Dan Moore)