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236 Years of Inalienable Rights

236 years have passed since the US declared independence from Britain. The Declaration was initiated as a statement of defiance against foreign sovereignty, but it was finalized as a dramatic assertion of human rights, and the world has remembered it that way.

Yet some less flattering aspects are worth remembering as well. Of the 56 visionary signatories of the Declaration of Independence, 56 were male, 56 were white, 55 were Protestant, and many owned slaves; they endorsed a banner of change and tolerance while living in the comfortable majority, and they did it in the face of a vastly superior British military. One could easily wonder where they found the courage to defy an empire, when they already lived relatively well as individuals.

We can’t do our Declaration of Independence honor by glorifying the imperfect men behind it, who themselves pronounced all men as created equal, nor by glorifying the actual document, which was composed before equality for women, for instance, seemed worth including.

We can honor the Declaration by upholding the values of equality and human rights that underlie it and by accepting that making progress means acknowledging flaws. We accomplish this when we remember the humanity of our citizens behind bars, when we stand up for exploited populations abroad, and when we analyze the imperfect roots of modern environmentalism.

The Declaration was no end-all; a war still had to be fought, a constitution still had to be written, that same constitution had to be amended, and the disparate states had to be united for real. However, when the founding fathers used that document as a means to champion equality and human rights, they set the USA on its feet as a self-aware nation.

Efforts are being made across the country today to further the admirable values of our founders. Their successes, like the success of the American revolution, come not from the values espoused by a few, but from the impassioned support of the public; without it, we could never have come so far.

Happy 4th, from Interlock.

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