Monday is the Fourth of July, the day on which we Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, approved by the Continental Congress in 1776.
The Declaration's second paragraph contains the famous words Thomas Jefferson borrowed and reworked from John Locke and other political philosophers: “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.”
The Fourth is a great day to remember. But we might do well to celebrate September 17 as much as we do July 4.
In 2004, Congress established September 17 as Constitution Day. It commemorates the day in 1787 when the United States Constitution was signed. But barely a murmur will be heard about that day when it comes.
Maybe that’s because the Constitution deals with things we don’t like to talk about as much as we like to talk about freedom, things like personal responsibility and mutual accountability, things that prevent personal liberty and freedom from becoming what the Bible calls “license.” License is doing anything that may come into our heads—good or bad, right or wrong, helpful or hurtful. It's freedom without checks, balances, or concern for others.
From 1781 to 1789, this country tried to govern itself under the Articles of Confederation with freedom as its only principle. The result was a nation descending into chaos. Under the Articles, the new United States couldn’t defend itself or ensure political or economic opportunity or security for its people. That’s why the Constitution came into being. That's why it was essential.
“We the people of the United States,” the Constitution begins, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Many historians say that the Constitution completed the American Revolution. Without the responsibility and mutual accountability it imposed on the willing and the unwilling alike, the American experiment of freedom would have failed long ago. I think that’s worth at least a few fireworks.