Today is the Fourth of July. Today we celebrate that time, back in 1776, when our country was born. Its birth was announced by that most precious of American documents, the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration announced the reason for the creation of this new country. Unique in all the nations of the world, the United States was founded, says the Declaration, on a self-evident principle. That means that the United States was founded, not as a certain land area with a certain kind of people in it. Rather it was founded on a guiding ideal so fundamental, so undeniable, that if you don’t believe in that principle, if you are not guided by that principle, you are not only not an American; you are unfaithful to what it means to be a human being.
Here is that undeniable, absolute principle: all human beings are born equal, and every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with inalienable rights. Inalienable rights are rights that cannot be denied, cannot even be given away. Before anything else, first and foremost, to be, not just an American, but a human being, means to recognize and be responsible for the rights of every other human being. As Patrick Henry said so succinctly, my commitment to that principle is more important than even my own life.
This is the profound, the defining beauty of the United States, the thing we celebrate most today. Before we are anything, before we are a collection of states, before we are a land area bordered by water and other countries, we are a people dedicated to the most fundamental principle, the defining principle of what it is to be a human being. Yes, we have, individually and as a nation, failed that principle. At our very founding, we denied these fundamental rights to whole groups of people, to Africans and others brought here as slaves, to people who lived here long before our ancestors ever came here, even to all women. But we have worked, and we are working, to correct those failures. That first principle is an ideal, our ideal, and to be an American is, before anything else, to work toward that ideal.
So today we celebrate, laugh and play and watch parades and fireworks. Tomorrow, July 5, we go back to the hard work of being an American, that most important work of pursuing that undeniable ideal. We go back to earning a living, of course, but in doing even that we go back to making that ideal come closer to realization. We do whatever we can to bring us close to that ideal. We embrace our fellow humans. We honor every other human. We contemplate and discuss the best means of honoring our fellow humans. We vote for people who are committed to that ideal. If we have the nerve and the strength, we run for office on the simple ground of wanting to make that ideal a reality. We object, in every way we can, to the conduct of our people and our government that violates that ideal.
It is a hard thing indeed to be a real American. It is exactly as hard as it is to be a real human being. So enjoy the Fourth of July. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.