The Declaration’s many faces

Jul. 03, 2013 @ 06:22 PM

Across Durham and the nation, most will mark today as one of the most profound dates in our nation’s history.  On this date in 1776, a group of visionary and unusually articulate colonists declared that these United States were independent of England, from which most of them or their ancestors had come.

It was a bold move, and, of course, simply saying it did not make it so. A long and arduous war would ensue, and when they affixed their signatures to their Declaration of Independence, the founders had every reason to believe they could end up hanged for treason.

While those truths are, to borrow a phrase from the Declaration, self-evident, we suspect they won’t dominate the minds of many people today.

People will mark this day in many ways – some with bursts of patriotic fervor at parades or other ceremonies, others perhaps simply in quiet reflection on what this day and the country it birthed have meant.

There will be fireworks displays, their celebratory flares bringing to mind in some ways the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air invoked in an anthem composed in another war, one that in many ways completed the break with England commenced in the War for Independence.

For many, today will be about celebrating, if you will, an independence from workaday pursuits and normal daily demands. We’ll grill, we’ll chill, we’ll visit pools or beaches – or shopping malls and big-box stores – taking advantage of a mid-summer holiday. With only one workday between today and the weekend, many will stretch this into a longed-for four-day holiday.

It’s fitting that we observe this day in so many ways. The Declaration of Independence itself has been invoked in many ways by the partisans of disparate causes. It is the inspirational document for tea-party conservatives and left-leaning radicals.

Many an anti-war protestor or labor organizer has fondly cited Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted musing that “a little rebellion every now and then is a good thing,” a sentiment to be expected from the man who was the principal author of a call to rebellion. Small-government conservatives cite its list of royal abuses.

At one point or another in our history, often oscillating with the ebb and flow of political dominance, devotees of right, left and center have channeled the defiant phrases of the Declaration.

We have struggled to bring to fruition its assertion that “all men are created equal.” For generations, many Americans, as were the document’s authors, comfortable with the idea that equality was granted only to some. But that language also inspired our better selves to bring that phrase closer to reality today than at any time in our history.

It is a protean document that can give comfort to many causes.

And that indeed is its beauty. Two hundred and thirty-seven years later, we may disagree, sometimes vehemently, over the details, but we are united in our belief that we all are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happy Independence Day!