Happy birthday, America

On July 4th we celebrate US independence. It was on this date in 1776 that the US Declaration of Independence was adopted in what is now Independence Hall in Pennsylvania by the Second Continental Congress. The thirteen colonies now became thirteen independent sovereign states, united to become free of British rule.

The United States became a beacon to the world, an example of a nation governed by laws not men, laws that protected the rights of its citizens from arbitrary power, enabling them to stand up against government itself if they needed to. The Founding Fathers were conscious that they were building “a city on a hill,” one that the world could look up to and be inspired by its example.

The US was to become the home of those seeking refuge from persecution and oppression, and for those seeking to make a better life for themselves in a country that would allow them to do so. America became the land of opportunity, where talent and hard work could make good.

The experience of settling in and developing the new land embedded in immigrants a practical streak that has not left them today. The US became known as a “can do” country. It is noteworthy that Thomas Jefferson’s draft declared, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable.” Benjamin Franklin, ever practical, scored out the last three words with thick black strokes and substituted “self-evident.”

America had its flaws, of course, as all countries did then and still do. Many of those signing that document were slave-owners, including Jefferson himself, and slaves were not awarded the rights asserted for others. It took nearly a century before that was rectified. The native Americans were likewise excluded, and were also treated badly. But America does tend to correct itself and to renew itself. “America the Beautiful,” which is effectively its second national anthem, contains lines that few other nations could write about themselves.

“America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.”

The world owes America a debt, in that its citizens have sacrificed themselves in two World Wars to save the world from conquest and tyranny, and to assert the right of nations to be free. In the second of those wars it saved the world from appalling barbarism and unimaginable cruelty.

America has also created wealth on a scale previously undreamed of, and it has been generous with that wealth, helping other nations to lift themselves from the devastation of wars, or the impact of natural calamities. Through globalization, the US has enabled poor people on the margins in distant countries to secure themselves a better life and to look to a better future.

America has its problems, but it has solved problems in the past, and there is every prospect that it will do so into the future. So, on their founding day, let us light the barbecues and enjoy the fireworks, and say with conviction, “Happy birthday, America!”