FIRST PERSON | If I don’t look at the Declaration of Independence any other day of the year, I feel like I should at least take some time out on July 4. This day isn’t just about barbequing hamburgers, drinking cocktails, and getting together with my friends to watch some fireworks. No, these (admittedly fun and important) things are just the outward signs of something more significant: the American way of life, built on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
So I’m taking some time this year to think about what the holiday is about. I’m getting to know our Declaration a bit better, and I’ve learned a few new things along the way.
A Historical Document with Style
I’ve realized that the reason we still read the Declaration of Independence in school is not just because it’s an important document with weighty things to say about our society. Sure, it does that, but it also sounds awesome when you read it out loud.
I had to recite part of the Declaration from memory in fifth grade, and while it was nerve-wracking to speak in front of my classmates and their parents, it was totally worth it. Even a small helping of those sonorously rolling phrases was enough to make me fall in love with words. The perfect cadences and balanced clauses tripped liltingly off my tongue — I didn’t even have to know what they meant to appreciate them. And like a jingle that I can’t get out of my head, the Declaration was actually easier to understand and remember because of its almost musical style. Go ahead, read it out loud and see!
Equality as a Way of Life
The Declaration of Independence didn’t just mesmerize me with its rhythmic clauses. What it has to say means a lot to me as well. The most telling line for me is at the beginning of the preamble: “All men are created equal.” What a great thing to learn as a child. I like to think that I grew up relatively prejudice-free because I took this phrase to heart. In fact, I thought everybody felt the same way I did, and it was a shock to find out as a teenager that people were discriminated against based on race, gender, class, disabilities, and a thousand other things. But by then, the idea that all people are equal was deeply ingrained in me, and it helped me fight against the prejudices I see every day all around me.
So this Independence Day, when I’m relaxing lakeside, I’ll be giving a little thought to how the Declaration of Independence has enabled me to live a nobler life than I deserve.