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July 5, 2002

The Glorious Second

Al Duke

John Adams said it best, in a letter to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776. "The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epoch, in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the Great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

The Declaration of Independence was the vision of a people, free to pursue their lives, liberty, and happiness without interference by Kings, Parliaments, and other tyrants. It was signed by the delegates to the Second Continental Congress on the second of July and proclaimed to the world on the Fourth of July 1776. This is the date that we celebrate with John Adams ' enthusiastic anticipation.

Fifteen months earlier, on April 19, 1775, at Concord, Massachusetts, local Minute Men, thinking the town had been set on fire, advanced on a company of British troops and returned their fire, thus setting in motion the great historical trend toward democracy that continues to the present day.

Democracy is not easy. We do not need to look outside our own borders to see the problems, the progress that has been made, and the progress that still lies in the future. The equality of opportunity for the descendants of the original inhabitants of this land, for the descendants of the former slaves, for women, and truly, for all of us, requires significant further effort before these issues will be resolved. Democracy enables and ennobles these efforts.

If we look outside our borders we also can see strides towards democracy that have been made by peoples around the world. For some the road has been difficult. For some only great wars have enabled democracy to become fruitful in their land.

The vision of democracy is the freedom to worship, of the press, of speech, that government is restricted in its powers, that the people rule. The lesson of democracy is that, though nations compete in trade and have their particular national interests, democracies do not make war on each other.

As democracy takes root around the world, and more people live in democracies today than ever before, the threats to it become greater. There are those who feel that they know what is best for others. This has led to greater or lesser regimes of totalitarianism and great wars to preserve freedom.

Today the threat to democracy remains present to all of us and we must remember all those around the world who desire freedom but do not yet possess it. The struggle for the last two and one-quarter centuries has been for the success of The Great Experiment. There were those who heaped scorn upon it at its beginnings and there are those today who still desire to see it fail.

John Adams well knew this and in the very next paragraph of his letter to Abigail he writes, referring to the Revolution, but apropos to all the battles then yet to come: "I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days ransaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."

The vision of America, and all the peoples of the world who see the Light of Democracy that has been burning for over two centuries, is freedom for all people, forever more.

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