“The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism.”
~Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams
The interesting thing about patriotism here in the United States is that it has to be defined differently than it is anywhere else in the world. Patriotism, for an American, isn’t really about devotion to our country. It’s about devotion to the American idea, to this experiment in self-government that holds promise not just for the people within our borders, but for people all over the globe. It’s about a sincere belief in that sentiment expressed so clearly in the Declaration of Independence “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.” It’s about an undying devotion to free people and a free world.
What Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams about the Declaration of Independence is instructive. “The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism,” he said. Those words tell us that our legacy is meant to inspire the oppressed to stand up to despotism. They remind us that with self-governance comes the responsibility to guard against dictators and to help others do the same. They serve as a reminder to all of what it means to cast off the chains of tyranny.
On this Independence Day, it’s clear that we’re facing some challenges. We are at risk of being driven apart by those who seek to do us harm, and we are at risk of being driven apart by Washington’s insistence that it knows best. But the truth is this: it doesn’t matter what danger we face—whether its economic stagnation or terrorism or military readiness. If we fail to preserve our fundamental, Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, we will have failed not only as a people, but as a republic. It may seem sometimes as though we are being tested, but this is a test we cannot and will not fail.
We are an exceptional people. Some have used that word, “exceptional,” to criticize what they call America’s sense of superiority, but that is a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are as a people. We are neither elitists nor nation builders. Simply put, we are the benefactors of generations of men and women who have fought doggedly for our individual rights. We’ve sought not to be a nation of separatists, but to be the first in a flurry of modern republics. We want for others what we ourselves have been blessed to enjoy: individual liberty and equality.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have said “where liberty is, there is my country.” That is the American idea, and that is what we are celebrating this July 4th.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!