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Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Independence Day Thoughts

A few thoughts on the day, not especially profound or tightly linked together. If you want profundity, follow three links near the end and read some truly important words.

I'd love to write a tightly-woven, beautifully-crafted, memorably profound little essay on Independence Day today, but it ain't gonna happen. Instead, some loose thoughts.

It's not Freedom Day. It's Independence Day. We had to become independent first, so that we could then become free in a relatively permanent way. It's hard to be free when some other power considers you a colonist. Institutionalized freedom came to most (not yet all) more than a decade later, when we ratified a Constitution that limited the power of our government.

From most points on the nature/nurture continuum, it's abundantly clear that all men (and women) are not created equal in any general sense. We are inherently unequal physically, intellectually, spiritually, etc. The equality in the Declaration of Independence is equality before the law. The law has to treat manifestly unequal people as equals. It's almost a legal fiction, but it's crucial to any modern sense of individual freedom.

The Declaration of Independence didn't finish in the Continental Congress' hands quite as it began in Thomas Jefferson's, but I suspect few significant documents have ever survived a committee's tinkering with such magnificence.

With all due respect to Franklin and Jefferson, the most pivotal figure in our nation's early history was not present to sign the Declaration of Independence. George Washington was out fighting the war that would make the words matter. Washington is a towering figure. He could have been king, but did not want to be. He preferred to retire, and could have -- and we would have forfeited a Constitution. It's an example to the retired folks among us now, perhaps. He had enough political decency and modesty to redeem a nation, but when he was President, his political opponents accused him of making himself king. Things haven't changed much, have they?

To my mind, the Declaration of Independence's two most likely challengers as the most beautiful, profound American document are Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address. I think reading all three -- even aloud -- would constitute perfectly appropriate Independence Day devotions.

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