Opinion

WEDNESDAY, JULY 4, 2012

Our national ideas are still revolutionary

The remarks below are from a speech given in Philadelphia by President Harry S. Truman on July 4, 1951, during the Korean War.

On this day 175 years ago the representatives of the American people declared the independence of the United States.

Our forefathers in Philadelphia not only established a new nation – they established a nation based on a new idea. They said that all men were created equal. They based the whole idea of government on this God-given equality of men. They said that the people had the right to govern themselves. They said the purpose of government was to protect the unalienable rights of man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

These were sensational proposals. In 1776 a nation based on such new and radical ideas did not appear to have much chance of success. In those days power centered in Europe. Monarchy was the prevailing form of government. The divine right of kings was still widely accepted.

The new nation was small, remote, poor and, in 1776, apparently friendless. Europe did not for a moment believe this new kind of government would work, and, to tell the truth, fully a third of our own people did not believe it would work, either.

We can hardly imagine the courage and the faith it took to issue the Declaration of Independence in those circumstances.

Today we can see that the members of the Continental Congress were right. Less than two centuries later the nation born that day, instead of being small, stretches across a whole continent. Instead of being poor, the United States is wealthier than any other nation in the world. Instead of being friendless, we have strong and steadfast allies.

The transformation during these 175 years seems to be complete, but it is not. Some things have not changed at all since 1776.

For one thing, freedom is still expensive. It still costs money. It still costs blood. It still calls for courage and endurance, not only in soldiers, but in every man and woman who is free and who is determined to remain free. Freedom must be fought for today, just as our fathers had to fight for freedom when the nation was born.

For another thing, the ideas on which our government is founded – the ideas of equality, of God-given rights, of self-government – are still revolutionary. Since 1776 they have spread around the world. …

There is a text inscribed on the Liberty Bell, the bell that rang out a hundred and seventy-five years ago to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence. When the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly ordered that bell for the statehouse in Philadelphia, they directed that it should bear certain words, “well-shaped in large letters.” You remember what those words were: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

We should write these words again today. We should write them in everything we do in this country – “well-shaped in large letters” – by every deed and act, so that the whole world can read them. We have written them in the deeds of our soldiers in Korea – for the men of Asia and all the world to see. Let us write them in all that we do, at home and abroad, to the end that men everywhere may read them and take hope and courage for the victory of freedom.



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