Yesterday we celebrated the 236th anniversary of our independence from the tyranny of King George of Britain. I am grateful for what the Founders and all who have fought for the American ideal have achieved, but as I contemplated what America has become, I also found myself mourning the loss of honor and unity that once defined our nation.
July 4, 1776 is celebrated as the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Within that document was contained, not only a statement declaring the thirteen colonies to be independent states, but also a definition of the moral standard under which our new nation was formed. That standard of equality is manifest in possibly the most important words in American history, “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.”
These words weren’t meant to be hollow, to be celebrated with flag waving and fanfare but once a year, and relegated to quaint remembrance, a plaque on a wall or page in a text book, at all other times. No, these words were to be emblazoned upon the very heart and soul of a nation, for they define the ideal; they define what it means to be American.
According to the Founders, it is in order to “secure these rights” that “Governments are instituted among men.” The American government was formed for that purpose, a purpose that the Founders clearly understood to be served only through dedication to the public good. This was, after all, the focus of the first fact “submitted to a candid world” in the Declaration that we now celebrate. The Founders considered this proof and valid criticism of the tyranny of the King of Great Britain: “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
Governments “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” it goes without question that they must serve the public good, for why would any individual otherwise offer their consent? It is for this reason that the “general Welfare,” held in the Constitution, along with Justice, domestic Tranquility, and common defense, to be the pillars of “a more perfect Union” and the means to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” is one of two reasons for which the Congress was empowered to levy taxes.
This recognition that the government is to serve all of its citizens was once the hallmark of America. It was what set us apart from the monarchies of Europe and Asia. It served as the model for the world. The Founders embraced the idea, and Lincoln challenged the nation to uphold the principle and resolve “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” When our democracy was threatened by the greed of the Robber Barons, Teddy Roosevelt led the fight to return to this value of the Founders, and when the reaper of greed took his toll and wrought the Great Depression, FDR once again brought us back to respecting the commons and tending to the public good.
E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one” — the motto of the United States adopted by Congress in 1782. When we remain true to this creed, we embrace and expand the greatness of America. When we turn our backs on the general Welfare, we reject all that’s made us great. Patriotism is the love and devotion of one’s country; it’s supporting that which serves to make our country stronger; it’s everyone doing their part and sharing the benefits — it’s working in unity to “form a more perfect Union.”
This truth was patently obvious to the Founders and every great American leader since. How is it now the object of such controversy?