Reflecting on independence: More than fireworks and barbecues

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As we enjoy barbecues, fireworks, and parades on the Fourth of July, we also reflect upon the deeper significance of our nation’s Independence Day and the principles that shaped the United States.

The Declaration of Independence, marking America’s freedom from British rule, embodies our nation’s founding ideals of personal liberty and political freedom. This Fourth of July marks the 248th anniversary of the Declaration.

As I note in Forbes, in today’s polarized America, many don’t share the Declaration’s ideals with enthusiasm. NPR’s decision in 2022 to stop reading the Declaration aloud on the Fourth of July after 33 years of doing so, was emblematic, raising questions about our current understanding of and celebration of independence.

Have we deviated from the Founding Fathers’ vision? Independence was intended to free us from oppressive rule, but today many see increased dependence on the federal government as normal. Governor George Clinton’s warnings during the ratification debates of 1787 resonate today: Did we fight for independence only to be ruled by new masters?

Government programs aimed at providing “breathing room” amount to increased reliance on federal aid. The long-running federal expansion into health care, education, and daily life choices contrasts sharply with the Founders’ vision of limited government. Social spending and universal basic income pilots, highlighted by the COVID-19 response, illustrate a shift toward ever greater government dependency.

Political polarization and debates over spending, regulation, and social issues cast a darker shadow over Independence Day celebrations, as the divide between those who are “extremely proud” to be American and others is growing. However, the spirit of independence from government overreach endures, evidenced by resistance to COVID-19 restrictions and recent Supreme Court decisions limiting administrative power.

While the Fourth of July remains a wonderful day of celebration, it should also remind us of the ongoing effort required to preserve our nation’s freedoms. Independence was not a static achievement but a continuous process of safeguarding liberty against illegitimate power, and tipping the scales toward individual liberty. We can and should celebrate the spirit of independence, not solely on July 4th, but throughout the year.

See also: “As Americans Celebrate July 4th, Can They Also Celebrate Independence? Forbes.