“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; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
— Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Those words are as revolutionary now as they were when they were written. Perhaps more so, for they have led to freedoms far greater than the practices of our Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote those words and yet he kept men, not as equals, but as property. While penning those “unalienable rights” for all, he denied his slaves the very “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” he held so dear.
But let’s not judge Jefferson or any of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence too harshly, for they were merely the product of their times, when justice was an evolving concept and equality an abstract ideal. We shouldn’t judge the hearts of men who lived in a different time; rather, we must judge them by the mark they left upon this nation and world.
The signers of the Declaration of Independence set in motion an ideal that helped to advance the cause of liberation for women, poor people, slaves, gay men and women, those with handicaps, and people of color. Their works on July 4, 1776, help to raise countless numbers of people from second-class status to full citizenship in the eye of the law.
The Founding Fathers freed humanity from the notion that some people are born into greater rights. They created a system of self-government that led to a nation strong enough to save democracy for the world, which then propelled us into the world’s most powerful nation.
Moreover, these Founding Fathers inspired a mindset that made the American people resilient, optimistic, generous and fair-minded, which ultimately led to the most diverse nation on earth. Just about every culture on earth has found a place to grow and prosper in our nation.
We as a nation have many great sins, but within that Declaration an ideal was launched that would, slowly but surely, bring out the better side of our humanity. When it was written that “all men are created equal,” an investment was made into our future, where all may indeed be equal, and no one will be left behind. We’re not there yet, but every time we celebrate the Fourth of July, we should remember that, indeed, we can get there. God has blessed our better selves.