After two decades trying to be heard by London, the Continental Congress declared the independence of these United States on July 2, 1776. On July 4 they adopted a document explaining their decision.
The document includes,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.
While self-evident to some, such truths are seldom self-asserting.
On July 4, 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat from Gettysburg. The grand-children and great-grandchildren of those who adopted the Declaration gave their lives deciding what equality, liberty, and happiness might mean in practice.
Meaning remains contentious.
All men? Men as in humankind or otherwise? All? Is that what you really mean?
Created? When? At conception, birth, majority? Where? NYC or OKC? Yucatan or Utah? Shenzhen or Seattle?
Equal? Before the law? In opportunity? In political responsibilities? In basic conditions?
Endowed by their Creator? As a matter of natural law, biological inheritance, ethical precondition? If there is no Creator does the endowment lapse?
Life? Including clean water and food? Health care? Death with dignity? Sexual identity? Eccentric expression? Angry and threatening?
Liberty? Prejudice? Religious belief? Gun ownership? Yelling fire in a crowded theater (metaphorically or not)? Building in the flood zone, on the beach, in the Colorado pine forest? Is the essential liberty the right to be left alone? A zone of privacy?
Pursuit of happiness? Property? Choice? Hedonism? Epicureanism? Religious fanaticism? Is this 18th Century slang for eudaimonia? Hot pursuit? Along for the ride? Brought along? Unrestrained?
The homeland I seek to secure is a place where these questions are vigorously asked and different answers can flourish in freedom.
It is meaningful (at least to me) that we do not celebrate the day freedom was declared, but instead the articulation of our case for freedom. Motivation matters. Purpose matters. A decent respect for the opinion of others matters. Among a free people why is at least as important as what. In the American context, freedom presumes reason and depends on listening: carefully listening to one another.
July 4, 1776 is our model. July 4, 1863 demonstrates the consequences of departing from the model. Where are we today?