Paul Greenberg

Actions, they say, speak louder than words, and they have a point -- up to a point. But what if the words are so apt and enduring, so altogether fitting and proper, so well-timed yet timeless, that they become deeds themselves, outlasting what they commemorate?

Consider the words of the Declaration of Independence, so familiar that generations of Americans, and not only Americans, have embedded them not just in their minds but spirit. So that by now we hold it self-evident that "all men are created equal...."

Those words are so much a part of being American that we may have to be reminded that there was a time when they were new, startling, audacious. And had not yet become something between cliché and holy writ. Something like a moral imperative. The words of the Declaration aren't just words; they impel, indeed compel, actions. Ideas have consequences. Those words certainly have had.

Then consider that, when those fateful words were first proclaimed, the continental army had already been in the field for more than a year. The revolution that the Declaration announced had experienced more than one victory and defeat, advance and retreat, battle after battle. These colonies may not have realized it, but they had already become these united states.

In the course of human events, this new nation would now dissolve the political bands that had connected it with another, and assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitled it.

But not until the words were uttered had the deed been completed, and the revolution recognized for what it was. Till then, those who had taken up arms had been colonials fighting for their rights as Englishmen, but after July 4, 1776, they were fighting as Americans, no longer subjects of the Crown but patriots fighting for their own country. The words had become the deed.

Seven score and 10 years ago, that still new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal found itself in the midst of a tragic struggle to determine whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, could long endure. Not until the country had undergone a second trial by fire, a war even greater and more terrible than the first, would the fate of the nation be determined.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.