How fortunate we are to be Americans — a notion we should consider regularly.
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival ... solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."
So wrote John Adams July 2, 1776, to his wife after the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence separating the 13 colonies from Great Britain and the rule of King George.
Adams was a tad premature. It was July 4, 1776, that became the signature date when the Second Continental Congress voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence, the statement being necessary because, the Declaration states, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
But Adams' point is no less apt because he was off by two days. Today is and should be a day for celebration. After all, 236 years later, the United States remains free and strong and stands as a beacon of liberty for all the world.
It might not have turned out so well, and that grim reality makes Adams' optimism about the future all the more striking. The Declaration's signers mutually pledged "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor," and that was no exaggeration. Many of them suffered grievously because of their dedication to a free America.
It took a long, costly Revolutionary War to win freedom from Great Britain, but win it our forebears did. Since then, succeeding generations of Americans have benefited from those sacrifices, surviving innumerable challenges that might have sunk a lesser nation.
How stands the nation on this Fourth of July? Obviously, we've been better in the past, and we will be better in the future. America's strength is that, through the genius, determination and creativity of its people and the freedom afforded by the Constitution and the rule of law, it endures.
We have majority rule, with respect for minority rights. We have a Bill of Rights that provides all citizens the right to speak and publish freely. This country is about individual rights because its Founding Fathers recognized that free men and women, left to their own devices, create the best environment for political and economic prosperity.
So on this day, Americans celebrate that freedom, knowing it was costly to win and to preserve. In November, we will celebrate another manifestation of that freedom, the election of our leaders from the presidency on down.
Americans take elections for granted, just like they take much of their freedom for granted. That's good, in a way, because it's how things should be, not just for us but for people all over the world. But what Americans take for granted is unthinkable for millions of people throughout the world.
People of the Middle East strive for freedom, but in doing so replace one despotic government with another. It's been less than 30 years since those on the other side of the Iron Curtain escaped the domination of the Soviet Union and its puppet governments throughout Eastern Europe.
Freedom can be fairly won, but easily lost. Considered in that light, America's accomplishment — becoming the land of liberty — is not just worth celebrating on this day but contemplating with some regularity.