Another birthday for the land of the free

Enjoy this great day, but don't forget what all the hoopla is about.

One of the great coincidences of American history occurred on July 4, 1826, when, speaking from his death bed in his final moments of life, this country's second president, John Adams, stated, "Thomas Jefferson still survives."

Adams was wrong about that. Jefferson, this country's third president, had died earlier that very day, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

But though Adams' words were not factually correct, he was accurate in the sense that the country Adams and Jefferson helped build remained alive and vibrant.

It was true then, and it remains true today. That is why Americans of all ages and classes today will celebrate the 237th anniversary of the day that the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration that informed Great Britain and the world why this country had decided to pursue an independent course based on the individual's unalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

That's what the Fourth of July is all about. It's a coast-to-coast celebration of the life of a country based on a premise that rejected royal families and ruling classes and embraced individual liberty.

Adams rightly predicted back in 1776 that this country's founding would be "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bell, bonfires and illuminations," and here we are.

How stands the nation on this July Fourth? Bent but not bowed, still the shining city on a hill, the place millions of people from other nations want to be, a font of opportunity, energetic, creative.

How fortunate we are to live in a country where liberty is more than an empty notion, where the rule of law prevails, where the majority rules but the rights of the minority are respected, where people are free to speak their piece and, if unhappy, work to change the status quo.

On this day, it's important to remember that America is far more than just a spot on a map; it's an ideal whose founding principles are based on the notion that freedom — economic freedom, religious freedom, political freedom — is the irreplaceable key to building a society that best serves the interests of its people.

Americans don't have to look far to see that other people in other places don't enjoy the same opportunities, that what too many of us take as a birthright is unthinkable for many millions of people.

The entire Middle East is a burning cauldron of political unrest, its chaos and danger illuminated most recently by the change of government led by the Egyptian military against a democratically elected but still despotic leader. The events there remind once again that it takes more than an election to build a democratic society, that without the rule of law, without respect for the rights of all, an election is just the noise preceding the slam of a jailhouse door.

Freedom, of course, is not free. This country's freedom came at the price of waging a protracted revolutionary war, and it's been maintained at historical interludes by the bloody sacrifices required to resist rival nations who meant this country harm.

There is no doubt that Americans can be complacent about their freedom, that what they take for granted can be easily lost if not jealously guarded, that freedom can be threatened just as easily by well-intentioned domestic zealots as it can be by cartoonish foreign thugs.

So it's not just fun, but good, that each year on this day Americans take a day off to celebrate, and perhaps contemplate, what this country is all about and how it came to be.

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