The Fourth of July is America's birthday – the anniversary of our independence as a nation in 1776. To celebrate, the Municipality of Anchorage and the Harvard Club are co-sponsoring a traditional Fourth of July program including the Pledge of Allegiance, a reading of the Declaration of Independence and historic songs and music. Everyone is invited, rain or shine, to the big flagpole on the Delaney Park Strip at 10th Avenue and I Street starting at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4.
You will hear the ideals of our founding fathers, ideals that are the basis of our Pledge of Allegiance to a nation "with liberty and justice for all." For 242 years, it has been a tradition in communities across the country to read the Declaration of Independence and to hear again the statement that shaped our nation:
"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."
When Thomas Jefferson wrote this resounding statement, our country bore little resemblance to today's nation. For most people, life in 1776 meant the hard labor and uncertainties of farming or fishing. Cities were often so disease-ridden that they were partially deserted in the hot summer months. The vast lands to the west were unknown. The colonies hungered for the strength and reinforcement of new immigration.
From these humble circumstances grew the great democratic principles of human equality and human rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
It is difficult to adequately appreciate the courage of the men who joined together to sign the Declaration. By doing so, they were declaring war on the strongest nation in the world. If England had won the Revolutionary War, the signers of the Declaration would have been hanged for treason. In a world that was ruled by kings and emperors, our founding fathers were proposing government by and for the people — a system that was radically different from the rest of the world.
They were inspired by the awareness that they were creating a better life for their successors. In describing the debate that preceded the vote to sign the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to a friend:
"Measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world."
As we now know, the bravery and foresight of our founding fathers was amply rewarded. America won its independence, and, over time, democratic government released the human energy and creativity that transformed our country from a scattered group of settlements along the East Coast to a powerful nation extending "from sea to shining sea."
Then, as always, adhering to our Pledge of Allegiance to a nation "with liberty and justice for all" required struggle and vigilance against the forces in human nature that can easily overwhelm those ideals.
Towards the end of the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton decried the self-interest of his fellow politicians: "The inquiry constantly is what will please, not what will benefit the people … In such a government there can be nothing but temporary expedient, fickleness and folly." Fortunately, America was blessed by leaders, including Hamilton, who combined the vision, resolve, persistence and ability to compromise needed to build our enduring governmental foundation, the U.S. Constitution.
The greatest test of our national values was during the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln led the struggle to maintain our unity as one nation and rout the evil of slavery.
Today, our nation is facing the less obvious insidious danger of division between the "haves" and the "have-nots." Overall, our national economic health is strong, yet the wealthiest 1 percent of households hold 40 percent of the national wealth. Housing costs and rents have increased, and people working at minimum wages jobs find they cannot afford to rent an apartment and feed their families. These circumstances generate a simmering resentment that can become contagious and dangerous. Revolutions are born and nations fall because of such circumstances. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once warned, "A people that values its privileges above is principles soon loses both."
Yet, however imperfectly, our nation has been sustained over time because its people have understood that in a democracy the government is their responsibility, and, knowing this, they have striven to uphold the equality that is an essential component of lasting freedom. So, come to the flagpole at 1:00 p.m. on July 4, and let the great words of the Declaration of Independence ring in your ears.
Janet McCabe and her family have lived in Anchorage since 1964. She is retired from the National Park Service and chairs Partners for Progress, Inc., an Alaska non-profit organization working to support justice that protects and heals.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email email@example.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to submit via any web browser.