America's Birthday After Sept. 11

Copyright 2002 National Review
National Review...07/03/2002

By James R. Edwards Jr; James R. Edwards Jr. is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute.

This 226th birthday of America holds special significance, being the first post-Sept. 11 Independence Day. But just what is it we Americans should reflect upon this Fourth of July?

We will inevitably think back just ten months to a bright September morning that began like any other, but which ended quite extraordinarily. Our world turned upside down that day.

We will remember the changes that fateful day wrought. We won't be able to help contemplating the meaning of the terrorist attacks, the war against a new kind of enemy, the fresh perspective we have now toward many things we had come to take for granted: firefighters, the U.S. military, Old Glory, patriotism, our Constitution, Western civilization, courage.

In a way, Sept. 11 shocked us awake from our indifference. This is a silver lining on a very dark cloud.

This Independence Day can serve as a reminder of this country's meaning, its essence. It can help us move past the pain of Sept. 11 to a deeper, more profound celebration of the Fourth of July.

On July 4, 1776, 66 delegates from 12 of the 13 American colonies, meeting as the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, approved the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson's venerated work appealed to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as the authority and basis for forming an independent society. It specified King George III's arrogations of American's God-given rights. And it declared that "these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown."

We celebrate not just this deliberated document's being signed, but also the achievement of our nation's independence. We celebrate the unique qualities of this nation that shines so brightly in the constellation of nations.

We celebrate the legacy our Founding Fathers left us - a republic that limits government, maximizes human liberty, achieves self-government, puts rule of law above licentiousness or tyranny, preserves order and requires responsibility of its individual citizens.

Each generation of Americans has been called upon to recommit itself to the principles of our country's Founding. One generation faced the threat of invasion by British forces just three decades after Yorktown. Later generations faced the growing pains of national expansion across a continent. Another generation faced the twin threats to union of federal encroachment on state sovereignty and of slavery. Still others faced struggles against enemies foreign and domestic.

Those struggles were settled at a cost, as is our present struggle. But we must remember that the cost was high for the Founders who forged our liberty. That struggle cost lives, fortunes, and honor. It required privations and dangers at patriots' very doorsteps.

As we sing the songs we have rediscovered - the National Anthem, America the Beautiful, God Bless America - most of us will reflect on the words. As we put hand to heart as the flag of our country passes, most of us will notice those broad stripes and bright stars and swell with renewed pride in the red, white, and blue.

We would do well to recommit ourselves to what this nation stands for. And that fresh commitment will be stronger if we graft it into the Founder's roots.

The Declaration of Independence ends with this sentence: "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."

Has Sept. 11 taught a new generation where our trust as a nation properly belongs? Have we learned anew the measure of devotion to this experiment in democratic self-government that is required? Only time will tell.

With hope, this Independence Day will mark a renewed spirit of '76. If so, then America will see many more birthdays as "the land of the free and the home of the brave."