In 1492, the vast expanses of the American continents were opened to the empires of an Old World that had for thousands of years presumed the legitimacy of slavery, indentured servitude, racial and sexual superiority, debtor prisons, child labor, and other conditions that our modern world now almost universally condemns. As was the practice of empires throughout recorded history, the British empire established slave colonies in the Americas to support the mother country’s economy. Those slave colonies existed as such in this land for over 250 long years before the birth of the United States.
Despite this troublesome foundation, in the decades leading up to 1776 a new spirit of Liberty and enlightenment awakened in Colonial America to challenge the injustice of the Old-World concepts. This new awakening was a result of the combined effects of the inspired writings of enlightened thinkers, the self-determination demanded by the rugged frontier life, the personal liberties afforded by the great expanses and isolation of vast American wilderness, and the simple reality that the immense hardships and dangers of the new world made it essential for the colonists’ survival that they accept to their fullest measure the talents and abilities of every person, regardless of race, sex, or national origin.
The new spirit of Liberty inspired the signers of the Declaration of Independence to declare on July 4, 1776, that each of us is endowed by God with certain unalienable rights and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Declaration did not expressly define the full nature and extent of the new American Liberty. The struggle to define that Liberty continued on after 1776 with increasing intensity and hostility for another “four score and seven years” when it finally erupted into the great Civil War. It was a war that claimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans, destroyed families and economies, and culminated in the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, outlawing slavery and demanding equal rights throughout the States. Still, despite the horrors and pain of the Civil War, the debate and struggle to fully define the new Liberty continues. For another 100 years after the Civil War the breadth of that Liberty was severely constrained by legally sanctioned separation of the races and violence.
Throughout our Nation’s history, millions have suffered, died, and see their lives horribly degraded in the struggle to define and realize the fullest measure of that Liberty with which our Creator endowed every person. As major struggles often do, the immense challenge of erasing the ancient prejudices rooted in every human heart has shaped the American experience like no other. Some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and President Abraham Lincoln, have emerged from this struggle with great honor. Others have fared very poorly. But, as a Nation of God, we are called upon to turn the other cheek. And so it is that “with malice toward none and charity for all” that we give the heroes among us full credit for their brave determination while allowing those who did not rise to the demands of great moral challenges to lie quietly for eternity.
The U.S., like the rest of the world, continues the struggle against the evils of racism and other forms of prejudice and hatred. While our American history is an important part of that struggle, we have not been alone in witnessing the terrible violence inspired by oppression and hatred. The fierceness of the American Revolution was rapidly eclipsed by the terrible violence of the French and Russian Revolutions, WWI & WWII, and the worldwide communist revolutions that cost more lives than all previous wars.
In the midst of the eternal fight for Liberty, Americans can hold their heads high knowing that our Country, as the leader of the free world, has for over two centuries inspired and moved the world, like none before, towards a more just, equal, and humane existence for all people in all lands.
As all do who dare to take up the fight for justice and freedom, America has sometimes failed and even failed mightily. Still, we have not and do not now shy away from the fight.
Please join me on this Fourth of July, and stand tall and proud and thank God for America’s many blessings, his guidance, and for his gift of the heroes and the struggles that have elevated and inspired our Nation and the world.
Happy 4th of July to all of you Patriots.