It’s time to get out your red, white and blue tableware, put up your flags and get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July. There’ll be parades, large and small; concerts; cooking out; fireworks. Scattered throughout the day will be visits with family and friends and enjoying a fine Carolina day.
How many of us will remember that we are celebrating the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the wise words contained therein? The thoughtful men who formed the Continental Congress and drew up what we loosely refer to as the Constitution would not likely recognize the country or its people today. Yet, they were able to give us a living document to guide us on our way to independence from Great Britain and begin life as the United States of America.
The preamble states: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Great Britain was not in favor of this act and thus began our first war as a nation. Lives were lost on both sides and, for a time, relations were strained after we won. Fortunately all that has improved over the ages, and we are now good friends and allies.
After the war, it became apparent to the co-signers of the Constitution that some additions were needed and 10 amendments, commonly referred to as The Bill of Rights, were added. Some of these 10 are more widely known than others—the right to freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to not incriminate oneself, the right to a speedy trial.
With each right comes responsibility, although that is not clearly spelled out for us. The fathers of our country assumed that we would recognize that free speech did not give you the right to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater if there was no fire. The right to bear arms does not include the right to drive by and shoot innocent civilians just because you own a gun.
Since the preamble clearly states that domestic tranquility and general welfare are among the things to be treasured by the new nation, one has to wonder what happened when we see so much domestic warfare and a lack of general welfare. It’s very hard to find a newscast that doesn’t start with reports of shootings and killings.
Politically, we are a country deeply divided. Records of the deliberations by the Continental Congress state that even when the “gentlemen” were seriously at odds over specific points, they were able to come to civil conclusions. That ability has been seriously eroded.
Over the years it became necessary to add amendments to fit the times: slavery was abolished; “naturalized” citizens were to be given the same rights and responsibilities as those born in the USA; prohibition was enacted then a few years later abolished. It takes wise legislators to realize that wrongs had been done to parts of our country and needed to be repaired.
My favorite amendment is the 19th, which finally granted women the right to vote. Abigail Adams started advocating for women during the first Continental Congress when she advised her husband, John, to “remember the women.” It’s a shame that neither Adams lived to see women turning out in droves to cast their first ballots.
So, if you get a quiet moment this Fourth of July, remember the hard work that has gone into making us a free nation and pledge to help get us back on track to “domestic tranquility.”