Each year at this time, we come together as a nation to celebrate our independence. More specifically, on July Fourth we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress in 1776.
The declaration was “revolutionary” in more ways than one. In the literal sense, the declaration marked an important formal milestone as the thirteen colonies described themselves as “Free and Independent States.” But equally important was a revolution in political philosophy. The declaration was a watershed moment in political thought, and the ideas expressed therein formed the foundation of our country and who we are as Americans.
In sharp contrast to most nations that came before, the Declaration of Independence rightly rejects the idea that peoples’ rights come from government. The Founders recognized that individual rights are inherent in all persons. The Declaration of Independence emphasizes certain self-evident truths, including that we are each endowed by our Creator with “unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” The declaration also emphasizes that government comes only from “the consent of the governed,” that is, from the people themselves.
These are the principles that made America great. These are the principles that set us apart from the countries that came before. Power comes from the people – not from government or its embodiment in a king or queen, emperor, tsar or any other monarch. Rights are inherent in the people. We have them because we are born free, equal in the eyes of God – not because some far-off political leaders granted them to us.
This is why the first bill that I passed as a legislator was the “Founding Documents Bill,” which added the original texts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to our high school history curriculum. Our country is different than so many that came before. Our nation is great not by happenstance, or historical accident, but by choice and by design. It was founded on a set of ideas and ideals.
Our children need to know what sets the United States apart from most of world history and why nations throughout the world have followed our example for the past two centuries. We needed to get back to basics with how we teach history and government to our students. And now, our kids are once again reading the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution so that they know their rights, understand our system of government and are prepared to participate in democratic self-governance.
As you celebrate our independence, there will be a lot to do – some of my favorite things, in fact, like barbecues, parades and fireworks. This Fourth of July, spend the day with friends and family, and be thankful that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world. But take a few moments to reflect on why America is so great. Read the words of the founding documents and remember what we are really celebrating: life, liberty and equality bestowed on us by God. You can find the Declaration of Independence and our other founding documents at www.OhioFoundingFathers.com