We hold these truths to be self-evident, that 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 …”
With those words, written 241 years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, our nation’s founding fathers made the case for breaking away from England and creating a new country.
It was a revolutionary idea at the time. In a world that had historically seen nations ruled by monarchs and leaders who ruled by imposing their will over the people to maintain control, it was a giant leap forward to think that it was the people who should hold the real power and the government that should work for them.
Few people gave the colonists much chance to succeed in their quest for independence. At the time, England was the super power of the world. Meanwhile, the colonies were a loose association of groups that had come to the New World for many different reasons.
Some came fleeing religious persecution. Others came for the thrill and adventure of exploring new territories. Others came hoping to make a profit by being the first to establish new businesses in a growing market.
There were farmers and plantation owners, merchants and skilled tradesmen. There were a wide range of religions represented, plus a strong mix of those who sought independence and those who were loyal to England and wanted to maintain the status quo.
Yet somehow, all of those people with such diverse backgrounds and interests were able to come together to work toward a common goal. They realized that by doing what was in the best interests of the entire nation, they would have the best chance at individual success.
Over time, that interest in the common good faded. Just 85 years after the Declaration of Independence was written the country was plunged into a Civil War. It was then the country learned the truth behind the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Looking back at our nation’s history, wars have often been the impetus to bring the country together. The Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I and World War II all saw the country come together to protect our rights to be Americans. Not Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, wealthy or poor, just Americans.
Today we once again find ourselves largely a house divided. People are so focused on their own needs and interests, they don’t see the bigger picture. In order to be able to maintain the freedoms we all enjoy — including the right to have different views — we must find ways to work together to achieve the common good as a nation.
As we celebrate the founding of our United States of America, we hope our elected leaders take a moment to reflect on the courage of our founding fathers. We urge them to put aside their personal differences and come together for the good of the nation, representing us with the full understanding that they are “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”
And we as citizens need to understand our need to work together as Americans. Sure, we can be different. Our diversity can be a great strength. But only if we are smart enough to realize that as individuals we don’t have all the answers. It is when we put aside our differences and focus on our common needs as one nation — as Americans — we are the most successful.