On this Fourth of July I am taking a pause to reflect on what it means to be an American. Is it waving a red, white and blue flag? Is it singing patriotic songs? Is it fireworks and barbecues? Or is it something more than that?
I believe being an American means trying to live up to the ideals represented in the documents that lay at the foundation of our system of self governance. Our basic humanity means that we are a work in progress.
Two things can be true at once. Our Founding Fathers were brilliant in their expression of an ideology and yet flawed in their personal implementation of that ideology. Being American means working to move these ideals into practice.
On this Fourth of July I am rereading the documents that spell out what it means to be an American and reflecting on what it means to turn ideology into reality.
The American ideology set forth by our Founding Fathers is found in the following documents:
The Declaration of Independence
“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.”
As an American I believe that people who do not look like me, have different religious beliefs or have different opinions from mine have the right to be an American. They have a right to freely live in the United States of America and pursue their own happiness.
The Constitution of the United States
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
As an American I believe that We the People form the government of the United States of America. We the People have a duty to establish equal Justice for all. We the People must provide for the common defense of all Americans. We the People have a responsibility to facilitate Domestic Tranquility by recognizing when groups of people are marginalized and work together to ensure equal rights for all. We the People need to work to promote the general welfare and liberty for all citizens.
The Bill of Rights
- Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition
- The right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia
- The right to not be forced to quarter soldiers
- The freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures
- The right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy
- The right to a speedy public trial
- The right of trial by jury in civil cases
- Freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments
- Other rights of the people (just because it is not mentioned in the constitution does not mean it is not a right of the people)
- Powers reserved to the states
The first ten amendments to the constitution form the Bill of Rights which describe Americans’ relationship to their new government. Guarantees for individual rights, rules for due process and the roles of federal vs state government are set forth. As an American I believe these rights belong to everyone equally.
The 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments lay out civil rights and voting rights for former slaves and women. The 15th and 19th amendments empowered every citizen for the first time to have voting rights.
Patriotism is not a political viewpoint. Patriotism is vowing to defend the constitution and the ideals on which our country was founded. Patriotism is defending another’s right to have an opinion and to voice that opinion when it is in opposition to your own.
As an American I do not want to “own” anyone either literally or figuratively. As an American I do want to listen to all opinions and ideas that are brought forth. Diversity of ideas, beliefs, and culture is what makes this country strong.
To me being an American means that, like our Founding Fathers, I recognize the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and at the same time understand that these ideals are a work in progress.
We will reach the ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers when all Americans recognize and accept the rights of others that we celebrate each year on the Fourth of July.
In this very divided age it is time for all Americans to do some serious self reflection about what being an American truly is. The best way to honor and celebrate our traditions and ideals as Americans is for everyone to stop calling people names and to stop judging based on a partisan view point. Honor our Founding Fathers this year by exercising your 15th Amendment right to vote and VOTE!
“The Declaration of Independence.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration.
“The Constitution of the United States.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution.
“The Bill of Rights.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights.
“The Constitution: Amendments 11–27.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27.
Janine Schindler, MCC. “Council Post: The Benefits of Cultural Diversity in the Workplace.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Dec. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/09/13/the-benefits-of-cultural-diversity-in-the-workplace/?sh=4e7b694671c0.