In point of fact, of course, the nation was simply being declared to be in existence, it didn’t actually have any real shape, form, or structure yet. The Declaration was truly just a statement that we weren’t just a bunch of rebellious colonialists, but that we were (at least according to us) a new nation. And, in the second paragraph of that statement, we stated that; “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 are lofty ideals, worthy, in my opinion, of being celebrated, as well as defended.
When the War of Independence was over (sort of, at least) we tried to set up an actual, functioning government to allow us to accomplish these goals. It took us a couple of tries, but, eventually, we created what I think is a rather marvelous document (the Constitution) which has gone a long way towards making it possible to achieve this difficult task. It hasn’t proven to be perfect, but it’s been better than most people probably expected and, since it contained a process for fixing things which didn’t work completely satisfactorily, it’s worked pretty well.
One of my favorite parts of it, however, is the Preamble: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” I’m especially fond of it because it seems to set out more explicitly than the Declaration of Independence does what we should expect from our government. It’s supposed to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.
The hard part, of course, has always been to live up to this high standard. After all, when we created these documents, we didn’t start out too well by current standards. Citizens (originally) were only property owning, white, males. Females couldn’t (of course) be citizens, nor could Negroes (they were just property, at least in many places and usually didn’t even count as full humans) and those “savages” whom we had mostly chased off of the land we former Europeans wanted, didn’t really count as people. Oh, yes, we established “treaties” with their “nations” when it suited us, but we have a poor record of honoring those treaties and we did set out rather methodically to destroy their culture, religion and society.
Some of this has changed over the years, although it took a Civil War to establish recognition of Negroes as people and 150 years later we still haven’t fully come to grips with the problems of racial bias, etc. If anything, racial and ethnic prejudice, etc. has been worse for a good part of the time. Any student of American history is, or should be, aware of the many forms of anti-immigrant laws and practices which were a feature of the American scene for much of it’s history. No, we have a long history of prejudice and prejudicial actions against women, Negroes, Irish, Italian, German, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Christians of many denominations, other religious minorities, LBGTQs, those who are old, infirm, fat, ugly, uneducated, homeless, addicted, and (probably) others I can’t think of. This is all there in our history, although we don’t tend to talk about it (let alone teach about it) because we know that it’s nothing to be proud of.
On the other hand, it’s not unfair to say that, overall, things have improved for most people in the less than 250 years since we declared ourselves a country (a VERY short time in the history of civilization), but we do need to be a little cautious about pretending that we are anything close to perfect, let alone permanent. Still, we (somehow) do seem to, make progress towards living up to our ideals in some sort of fashion. We aren’t there yet, but I think we are trying, in spite of the shenanigans of politicians who are more interested in being elected (or reelected) than in accomplishing anything to “promote the general Welfare.”
So I’m going to fly my flag on the Fourth (unless it rains, as I do not have an “all-weather” flag) and I expect to go out to watch some fireworks and get together with some of my family to celebrate the occasion. I AM proud of my country, but I think a good citizen’s job is to work to make it better, even if that means disagreeing with other citizens at times about what the country stands for and how we should proceed in the process of forming a more perfect Union, establishing Justice, insuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defence, promoting the general Welfare, and securing the Blessings of Liberty. I have read the Constitution. I’ve studied our history. I recognize that we haven’t always been perfect, but I’m also trying to make us better. How about you?
Food, parades, and fireworks aren’t the answer. Solving problems takes work! So have a good time this weekend, then let’s get down to the job of being what we say we wish to be.