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July 4, 2002 celebrates 226 years of democracy



Published: Thu, July 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



"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 rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The "shot heard round the world" may have been fired on April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Mass., but the shot which still resonates around the world today was fired from Thomas Jefferson's pen on July 4, 1776. Then, a new nation was emerging from the minds of its leaders and the strength of its people, battling a king thousands of miles away and his soldiers in that new nation's cities and towns, hills and fields. The United States of America arose from those battlefields, living proof of the power of democracy and freedom.

Since then, the United States has remained a steadfast light of liberty to the world -- through wars domestic and foreign -- and despite terrorists' worst efforts, that light will remain undimmed.

Almost since America's birth, the Fourth of July has not only been celebrated but has been cause for the undertaking of new endeavors.

On July 4, 1802, 200 years ago today, the United States Military Academy at West Point was opened. On July 4, 1817, ground for the Erie Canal was broken. On July 4, 1828, construction of the Baltimore & amp; Ohio Railroad began at Baltimore harbor, with Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, laying the first stone. In 1850, the cornerstone of the Washington monument was laid down.

But just as today, the United States on other Independence Days has faced great challenges because of those who have denied our great freedoms -- and the hope they hold for every man, every woman and every child -- and would eradicate them for all.

The consent of the governed

Whether terrorists, vicious dictators or even home-grown rebels, there are -- and have been -- too many who cannot abide the notion expressed in our Declaration of Independence that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

But for the Hitlers, and the Saddam Husseins, and the Osama bin Ladens and all their compatriots, power comes not from the free elections of a free people but at the end of a gun.

Nonetheless, the United States has conquered those who would destroy freedom before, and it will destroy those who threaten it today.

Before a special session of Congress on July 4, 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, called on the American people "to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets, and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace, teaching men that what they can not take by an election neither can they take it by a war ... ."

Patriotic Americans heeded Lincoln's words and denied the South its own nation, one established on slavery. And in 1917 they marched into war to make the world safe for democracy. Not for American domination, not for dictatorship, but for democracy. On July 4, 1919, when the war was over, The Vindicator reported on "Youngstown's Victory Fourth of July celebration ... with probably the most elaborate and best conducted parade ever held in the city."

The reality of freedom and equality

There will not be thousands filling downtown streets "hours before the procession" as there were 83 years ago, but parades in other Valley communities will engender no less patriotism and no less enthusiasm for democracy in its citizens than that expressed by their great-grandparents in the past.

On July 4, 1920, then Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge (himself born on July 4, 1872) affirmed in his Independence Day oration that "The wonder and glory of the American people is not the ringing Declaration of that day, [July 4, 1776] but the action then already begun, and in the process of being carried out, in spite of every obstacle that war could interpose, making the theory of freedom and equality a reality."

Coolidge, who became president in 1923, observed: "The doctrine of the Declaration of Independence predicated upon the glory of man and the corresponding duty to society that the rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state ... . Only so long as this flame burns shall we endure, and the light of liberty be shed over the nations of the earth."

Thus the actions we take today whether at home, in Afghanistan or in other of the globe's trouble spots attests to the continuing dedication of the American people to tend that flame of freedom.

America's Independence Day is the most enduring celebration of an ideal in the world. Although many of us may fear what the terrorists might do who are pledged to the end of our free nation, we must not give them a moment of our lives, our liberties or our pursuit of happiness. As long as we hold fast to our principles and to our idealism, the United States of America will endure.




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