July 3, 1986
Like all great holidays, the Fourth of July brings to mind the traditional ways we celebrate: dazzling fireworks displays light the skies; march music fills the air; parades with flags and floats and blaring bands brighten the broad avenues of our cities and the main streets of our small towns; families get together with friends and neighbors for picnics and barbecues; patriotic songs stir the heart. These are the images -- glad, bright, and touching -- that we have come to associate with the Fourth of July from the time we were children.
It is altogether fitting that we should celebrate this day with great joy, because it is the birthday of our beloved country. It is especially fitting that it should be celebrated as a family holiday and a community holiday, because it commemorates our solemn bonding together as a new nation -- the American Family.
It is a day not only for celebration but also for reflection -- a day to ponder what it was that forged 13 diverse colonies into an unbreakable union that has endured and grown and prospered for more than two centuries. What was the secret that emboldened a loose confederation of some two and a half million settlers on the Eastern rimland of the New World to challenge the might of the most powerful colonial empire on earth?
Quite simply, it was the courage and the vision of our Founding Fathers. They seized the unique historical moment Providence had placed within their grasp. Determined to protect and guarantee fundamental human rights, they felt called upon to bring our nation into being.
In order to give that new nation shape and direction they drew freely on the riches of the Judeo-Christian tradition with its central affirmation that God, not chance, rules in the affairs of men, and that each of us has an inviolable dignity because we have been fashioned in the image and likeness of our Creator. The Founding Fathers established a nation under God, ruled not by arbitrary decrees of kings or the whims of entrenched elites but by the consent of the governed. Theirs was the vision of a striving, God-fearing, self-reliant people living in the sunlight of justice and breathing the bracing air of liberty.
As the years unrolled, generations of Americans painted that vision across the broad canvass of the continent. It has always been the secret of our progress, our power, and our prosperity. Whenever we have allowed it to fade we have done so at our peril. Whenever it has burned bright we have amazed the world with our inventiveness, our daring, our achievements, and our magnanimity.
Through the years, America's promise of liberty and justice for all served as a magnet, drawing to our shores millions of people yearning to breathe the heady air of freedom. They flocked here from every continent, bringing with them the riches of their customs and their cultures; precious strands of every color, tone, and texture, to be woven into the rich tapestry of America.
And still they come, drawn by the promise of liberty under law, guided still by the beacon light of liberty whose most majestic symbol -- newly refurbished this year -- is the Lady with the Lamp who stands in New York harbor. Her high-held torch beams forth the same message that the Liberty bell rang out more than 200 years ago, the message of Leviticus:
"Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.''
As we celebrate this day, let us draw closer to all of our fellow citizens in common purpose guided by a common vision. Let all Americans like one grateful family honor our Founding Fathers and all who have worked and fought and died to keep their dream alive. Let us renew our commitment to the message and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence:
"That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . . ''
Let us sing again the great patriotic songs:
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her, and guide her,
Through the night, with a light from above.
Let the words ring out loud with conviction and with joy:
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
To all my fellow Americans -- Happy Fourth of July!