Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July and not the 17th of September — the day in 1787 that the Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention?
We celebrate the Fourth because it commemorates the start of the American nation as a separate entity from what had come before. The Constitution, as much as we respect it and swear to uphold it, is just a constitution. It is a set of laws under which the people and government live and operate. If we wanted to, we could change the entire Constitution within a matter of months.
The Declaration of Independence that we celebrate on the Fourth is a different matter altogether. It is our birth certificate — unchangeable, even if some would like it changed. It was and is a clear and unequivocal statement of the arrival of the American nation and the creation of the American people.
You don’t often hear talk of an American nation. Intellectuals steeped in corrosive and pointless Enlightenment ideas about the universality of the human experience are uncomfortable with the idea of a “nation” — a group of families, clans, tribes and communities with common experiences knitted together for the common good and motivated by a common purpose.
Since appearing in 1776, the United States has been the most important and, for most of its history, the most powerful and accomplished nation on the planet, and our citizens have been the greatest force for good in this world. That warrants celebration.
Those of us lucky enough to be here — however we got here — should thank God every day that we are here and celebrate those who are responsible for our presence here who endured hardships to build this nation. For most of us, someone in your family (maybe you) was bold enough and smart enough to leave where they were and become an American. If you can’t celebrate anything else on the Fourth, at least celebrate that person and those people and their vision and tenacity.
Also, take a moment to think about the millions who make their way to us each year because they want to be a part of the American nation. They want to join their destiny to ours. In many instances, they have more confidence in our future than native-born Americans.
It is always tempting to think of immigration, both legal and illegal, as a challenge or problem. But if you think about it from a different perspective, the desire to become American and, in many instances, the struggles that people are willing to endure to get here is the best indicator that we are still the best nation on the planet.
Each year, more than a million people immigrate into the United States legally. Probably another million make it into the country illegally. In comparison, communist China experiences net emigration of more than half a million people annually.
In short, people all over the world vote with their feet to be a part of the messy, loud, glorious American nation.
On the Fourth, many remember the famous and incredibly prescient quote from John Adams in which he predicted that the day of the signing of the Declaration: “ … will be celebrated by succeeding generations … [and] be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, [church] bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”
A less well-known and more modest quote from the great American poet Robert Frost may be as relevant in our present time: “Freedom lies in being bold.”
Indeed. Our current moment, like all our moments before, is freighted with daunting challenges at home and abroad that absolutely require boldness and resolve on our part. These challenges will require each of us to summon our own greatness and boldness and remember that our shared history shows that there is nothing that the American nation cannot overcome, achieve or accomplish.
On this Fourth of July, in the 246th year of our founding, that is truly worth celebrating.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.