The Declaration’s call to action

Don’t miss it.

After over a year of COVID-19-related isolation and polarization, it is easy to be excited about gathering with loved ones this Independence Day. But amidst the hot dogs and baked beans, fireworks and friends, I urge you: don’t miss the opportunity to reflect on the real reason we are celebrating.

Our independence was the beginning of freedoms the world had never seen before. The shot heard ‘round the world was a ringing affirmation of individual rights that governments had recognized previously as privileges, to be bestowed — or withheld — at the whim of a monarch.

“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.”

Don’t miss it. It’s a radical reframing of the relationship between citizen and government. The independence of the United States of America was not just about escaping the tyranny of Great Britain, but also about establishing an entirely new governing philosophy and style of governing. For the first time in the history of the world, a nation was being built upon the notion that all human beings are of equal worth and have inherent rights bestowed upon them by God, not by government. We are all God’s children.

It fundamentally alters the historical power balances in society by affirming the individual’s inherent authority over their own life. Rather than rulers, governments become stewards. Elected officials are appointed protectors of those rights, subject to the same laws that govern the people they serve. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” the Declaration states.

It was a revolution. At that point, the ultimate power was placed in the hands of the people: “[…] that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Although our founders, for sure, inherited societal flaws, they created a template that allows us to mend those flaws. They saw beyond their own moment in time and crafted an aspirational mission statement – a Declaration of Independence – that continues to inspire, guide, and challenge us as a nation to this day. It’s up to each of us to do the work to see that vision more fully realized in the fabric of our society today than it was for the generation that came before us. When we entrust our nation to the next generation, we’re not passing down a precious heirloom to preserve. We are handing over the reins to a living, breathing nation with the charge to put our blood, sweat, and tears into leaving a “more perfect Union” to those who come after. 

If we assume someone else is shouldering this responsibility, then we’ve gravely misunderstood the responsibility of freedom. There is a call that each of us must answer — with courage, energy, and commitment — to live up to the ideals laid out in our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence closes with the words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” 

This pledge did indeed cost many signers their livelihoods and their lives. They and other past generations of Americans have fulfilled their duty: they have debated, marched, fought, bled, and died for freedom. 

Now is our responsibility. We own this moment. It is up to us to grab the reins and not let go. 

“We hold these truths.”

  • Rep. Brad Wenstrup is an American politician, U.S. Army Reserve officer, and doctor of podiatric medicine, who has been the U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 2nd congressional district since 2013. 

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