It’s just a piece of paper….and some ink. On July Fourth, we celebrate that piece of paper – the Declaration of Independence.
Written 243 years ago, the 1,323 words declare American values and ideals. These words bind Americans together.
A nation created by ideas, instead of around a common language, religion, ethnicity, race, geography or held together by a tyrant with a powerful army or secret police, is unique in history.
A portrait of Americans reveals a people of many faiths (or no faith), with ancestors from every corner of the planet. We are not defined by the barriers of a mountain range or a mighty river.
We are Americans because we share ideas on a piece of paper:
“…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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..”
Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution established America’s national government and fundamental laws in 1787. If you visit Washington, D.C., you can view the original pieces of paper at the National Archives.
Two years later, the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights. After the first 10 amendments, Americans approved another 17 amendments to clarify and update the laws that govern us.
The Constitution lists the powers of each branch of government – the Congress, the president and the courts. Recent debates in Washington about presidential authority to spend money, fire people, wage war and other actions center around these express powers.
The Constitution intentionally builds in checks and balances to limit the power of each branch. In the coming months, we’ll see if these checks and balances hold.
A newer federal document should also be on your holiday week reading list. It’s the Special Counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Almost daily, Donald Trump lies about what it says. Before you defend him or call for his impeachment, take the time to read it and judge for yourself.
Yes, it’s 448 pages, with thousands of footnotes and legal citations. The Justice Department blocked out large sections of text to supposedly protect national security, grand jury testimony and keep from embarrassing people who did stupid things. Reading the report will take hours, not minutes and there’s no video version. But take the time.
When you read it, compare the findings with the ideals and values in the other documents. How would the actions of our current politicians, elected leaders and justice officials measure up to the words written two centuries ago?
As we celebrate America’s founding, turn off Twitter and Facebook for a few hours and read these pieces of paper that we share as American citizens.