Staff Editorials

On Independence Day, we should remember the values that unite us

Elementary students wave American flags above their heads as they sing
Elementary students wave American flags above their heads as they sing "God Bless America" in this 2008 file photo. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

We would be remiss on this day commemorating our founders’ reaction to an unbreachable divide if we did not issue a reminder that, when push comes to shove, Americans stick together.

For more than 240 years citizens of this country have had the opportunity to openly disagree with each other and government at all levels. That is a privilege not experienced by billions around the globe, and one deeply seated in our society.

But considering the ever-widening chasm between right and left political thinkers, Independence Day is especially important this year.

“On other days of the year, we may be party men, indulging in controversies more or less important to the common good,” said Daniel Webster in Boston in 1851. “We may have likes and dislikes, and we may maintain our political differences, often with warm and sometimes with angry feelings. But today we are Americans all; nothing but Americans.”

Purposeful words within the Declaration of Independence outline our values and, in defense of these basic principles, many have fought and died.

The document was adopted by the Second Continental congress on July 4, 1776, and later signed. The entire affair being an act of treason against a government that refused its’ citizenry freedom, conducted by 56 men of widespread political leanings. And despite their differences, these men found and pledged to defend common ground.

“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 those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

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The Fourth of July became an official holiday in 1870, set aside as a time to commemorate the momentous decision by the colonies to separate from what they viewed as a stifling monarchy. The declaration lists a “long train of abuses and usurpations,” and closes with a pledge of unity.

“And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

We’d be foolish to predict a sudden departure from the political and ideological battles that mark news headlines; Iowans from small town Main Street to Des Moines’ capitol steps have engaged in spiteful rhetoric on a nearly daily basis. Too often these disagreements have devolved into name-calling or, worse yet, thinly veiled incitement to violence.

Some aspects of our political system are necessarily adversarial. There is, however, no mandate to shun civil discourse or engage in violence. The current state of debate, overflowing with ire and distrust, is keeping us from the truths so eloquently laid out 241 years ago.

This Independence Day, take time to remember our shared values, and the common ground for which we would all be willing to fight and die. These are our guideposts, the values that transcend social media, politics, culture and religious divisions.

Patriotism, which is the point of this day, offers an opportunity to reflect on these values and perhaps chart a path forward with them at the forefront. Please, take advantage of it.

“Go put your creed into your deed,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said in a poem delivered on July 4, 1857. It remains sound advice.

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