THREE GREAT AMERICAN IDEAS
July 4 is America's birthday. We date our existence as people not from the Mayflower Compact in 1620 nor even (more logically) from 1787, the date that the Constitution, which still governs us, was born.
In the American faith, the people are prior to the Constitution, not formed by it, and July 4 celebrates the day we brought into being that new something: the Americans.
One of the persistent tropes of Americans is that we are a new nation. Certainly when compared to Europe, we have no very ancient history as a people -- no ruins of past iterations of our own civilization dot the landscape to remind us of any deep roots in the mists of prehistory. No mythical Romulus and Remus, suckled by wolves, form our creation myth. We know precisely from whom and how we came to be.
And yet America's is now almost certainly the oldest Constitution still operative on the face of the Earth. We may still be young, relatively speaking, as a people, but we are ancient of days as a polity. The endurance of America as one nation, under God, is a testament to the enduring power of what the men of 1776 bequeathed to us.
Our forefathers committed us as a nation to three great ideas that have stood the test of time:
The first is the idea of truth itself -- not only in the Declaration's insistence that we as a people hold certain moral truths to be self-evident, but the entire structure of the Declaration, its very reason for being, is testament to this faith in reason (and in the reasonableness of faith).
"A decent respect to the opinions of mankind" required the signers of the Declaration to set forth the reasons for the breaking of the bonds that tied us to Great Britain. Given the bloody, repetitive history of man's treatment of man, surely it requires a special kind of faith to assert the world would care about why Americans severed our bond with Britain -- to believe that people can be influenced by something other than their interests. Well, they can be influenced by moral arguments, honestly offered.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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