FOURTH OF JULY

Living the lessons of the Declaration

 
MCT

jack@4Gen.org

As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s think for a few minutes about the words that were principally drafted by 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, which resulted in the Declaration of Independence — our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty.

In so many unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of those gathered in Philadelphia to contemplate their yet-to-be formed nation’s sentiments for declaring their freedom from British rule. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and other European philosophers.

What Jefferson did with such clarity was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against King George II in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.

While our nation’s Founding Fathers, 56 of whom signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776, are to be honored for their vision, wisdom and sacrifices, it is always appropriate, I believe, to recall certain realities of the time. Like Jefferson himself, others in that group were slave owners, a fact that seems to contradict the heralded preamble to the document:

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.

This contradiction between ideal and real is obvious, but as historic events unfolded over the decades and centuries to follow, the Declaration of Independence served as a source of motivation for many important movements for justice in our nation — and for many other people and nations worldwide — to this day.

The American abolitionists’ fight against slavery and the suffragists’ struggle for voting rights for women were firmly rooted in the words of the Declaration.

And the ongoing movements for civil-rights reforms based upon racial, disability, sexual identity, immigration status and other human differences all deserve and demand action to resolve. They are each based upon the principles of freedom, liberty and achieving a quality of life declared as unalienable by Thomas Jefferson and his co-authors.

As we savor the brilliance of the Declaration, let’s remember that words alone do not bring change or progress. It’s in the actions of enforcement that motivating words become social reality — and only through effective and ardent advocacy can we make the changes that our nation’s founders guided us to dream about and act upon for the betterment of all.

Jack Levine is founder of the Tallahassee-based 4Generations Institute.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  • EARLY LEARNING

    The imperative is to educate our children

    When the two of us were graduated from high school, nobody seemed to be worrying about China or Brazil or India competing with us as an economy or in education. We took for granted that we were the best in the world in education and the economy and had no reason to believe that would ever change. Everyone seemed to be able to get a job — and to do so with not much more than the bare basics of education.

  • AUTISM

    Learning alongside my daughter, Bela

    My daughter, Bela, who has autism, doesn’t go anywhere without a pair of socks, which is odd because she never wears socks. Rather she carries them around as if they were dolls.

  • GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

    His words dazzled the world

    Gabriel García Márquez has left us. His was also a death foretold, but no less shocking, because we resist saying farewell to our heroes. And García Márquez, the immense writer, was a superhero of literature.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category