This Sunday, July 4th, we will once again celebrate our nation’s founding, marking the day in 1776 that the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence was intended to be an official statement explaining why the 13 American colonies had declared their independence from Great Britain. In the years following its passage, however, this statement of principles about the rights of man grew to mean much more.
America became the only country in history founded, as Leo Strauss explained, “in explicit opposition to Machiavellian principles,” by which he meant crass, power politics. Instead, America was founded on a set of clearly expressed “self-evident” truths. Thomas Jefferson said the Declaration was “intended to be an expression of the American mind,” and indeed, no document since has so succinctly and so eloquently spelled out the spirit of America.
Our country has evolved out of the timeless truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence to develop a distinct character and set of values that distinguishes us from even other Western democracies.
This holiday, it is worth taking a look at how several key phrases from the Declaration of Independence have served as definitional statements about the aspirations of America, and how those words of our Founding Fathers’ have affected America in the 234 years since they were written.
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Newt Gingrich, a Republican, was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. He is the author of the new novel "Treason" (Center Street, October 11) and co-author, with his wife Callista Gingrich, of "Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation's History and Future" (Center Street, May 17, 2016).