Message on the Observance of Independence Day, 1981
Today, all over America, families and friends are reuniting to renew ties, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate our Nation’s birthday. It is a day when liberty and laughter go hand-in-hand — when we can acknowledge that, oh yes, we have our faults, and lots of problems, too, but we’re happy and proud because we’re free, and we know the best of America is yet to be.
If you close your eyes and try to picture our country, chances are the first thing you’ll see is your own hometown. I always see mine, Dixon and Tampico in Illinois. Today it is the hometowns of America, both big and small, that remind us what a diverse yet united country we are. Each in its own special way will carry out a wish expressed by one of the Founding Fathers 205 years ago.
Back in 1776, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail that the anniversary of our independence should be observed with great fanfare: “. . . with pomp and parades . . . shows and games . . . and sports and guns and bells . . . with bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, and from this time forevermore.”
Well, Mr. Adams, rest assured that what you wanted is being done. Your traditions are now ours, and we guard them like national treasures. And you know why. When we unfurl our flags, strike up the bands, and light up the skies each July 4th, we celebrate the most exciting, ongoing adventure in human freedom the world has ever known.
It began in 1620 when a group of courageous families braved a mighty ocean to build a new future in a new world. They came not for material gain, but to secure liberty for their souls within a community bound by laws.
A century-and-a-half later, their descendants pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to found this Nation. Some would forfeit their fortunes and their lives, but none sacrificed honor.
Thomas Jefferson wrote that on that day of America’s birth, in the little hall in Philadelphia, debate raged for hours, but the issue remained in doubt. These were honorable men; still, to sign a Declaration of Independence seemed such an irretrievable act that the walls resounded with cries of “treason” and “the headsman’s axe.”
Then, it is said, one unknown man rose to speak. He was neither young, nor strong in voice; yet, he spoke with such conviction that he mesmerized the hall. He cited the grievances that had brought them to this moment. Then, his voice failing, he said: “They may turn every tree into a gallows, every hole into a grave, and yet the words of that parchment can never die. To the mechanic in the workshop, they will speak hope, to the slave in the mines, freedom. Sign that parchment. Sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever.” And sign they did.
What makes our revolution unique and so exciting, then, is that it changed the very concept of government. Here was a new nation telling the world that it was conceived in liberty; that all men are created equal with God-given rights, and that power ultimately resides in “We the people.”
We sometimes forget this great truth, and we never should, because putting people first has always been America’s secret weapon. It’s the way we’ve kept the spirit of our revolution alive — a spirit that drives us to dream and dare, and take great risks for a greater good. It’s the spirit of Fulton and Ford, the Wright brothers and Lindbergh, and of all our astronauts. It’s the spirit of Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, and a million others who may have been born poor, but who would not be denied their day in the Sun.
Well, I’m convinced that we’re getting that spirit back. The Nation is pulling together. We’re looking to the future with new hope and confidence — and we know we can make America great again by putting the destiny of this Nation back in the hands of the people. And why shouldn’t we? Because, after all, we are Americans.
As Dwight Eisenhower once said: “There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence and energy of her citizens cannot cure.”
He was right. If we just stick together, and remain true to our ideals, we can be sure that America’s greatest days lie ahead.
Happy Fourth of July!