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Edelman: We all share core values, expressed in our nation's founding documents

Happy Independence Day, or what should have been Independence Day, July 2. It was this day, 243 years ago, that the Second Continental Congress passed the resolution declaring independence from Great Britain. John Adams, who would eventually become the nation’s second president wrote, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to 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, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Adams had the right idea, but he missed the date on which we celebrate by two days. This is due to last-minute editing of the written Declaration of Independence and the final draft date of July 4, 1776 appearing on it.

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For many of us, the Fourth is a pleasant summer vacation, a three- or four-day weekend, with plenty of cookouts and fireworks, and somewhat less reflection on the immense historical significance of the event. The United States was the world’s first liberal democracy. To be sure, elected governments existed before ours — the British Parliament dates back to 1215, and Iceland’s Althing, their national legislature, was formed in 930. But those earlier legislatures were subject to the rule of monarchs. Ours is the first government to put in place the idea that governments derive their power from the consent of those governed.

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The men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to those principles were the radical progressives of their time, the colonies’ forward-looking intellectuals and leaders: Charles Carroll of Carrolton, after whom Carroll County is named, was educated in one of France’s finest universities; on his return to the colonies, he immediately took up the cause of independence, was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence, and was Maryland’s first United States senator. His patriotism was not unique. Had the fight for independence failed, he, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hancock, and the rest of the 56 signers of the Declaration stood to lose, at the end of a thick rope, much more than they gained. Along with our picnics we should remember and celebrate their bravery, their idealism, and their perseverance.

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As we celebrate Independence Day, we should remember that we are all Americans and much more unites us than divides us. All of us share America’s core values, expressed in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Our democracy is built on more than the principle that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. It is dedicated to the idea that the country’s laws should be for the common good, and not for the benefit of the few or the wealthy. It is built on the principle of diversity: All people are created equal, that race, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, and national origin neither favor nor handicap any American. Our democracy is built on equal treatment under the law: Every American should be treated fairly, receiving the benefits and sharing the obligations of society. And our nation is founded on the principle of liberty: All people are entitled to personal freedom, freedom of expression, of opinion, and of the right to express one’s opinion. The First Amendment to the Constitution expresses those freedoms.

As we celebrate Independence Day, it would be wise to think not only of the rights and freedoms we have, but of the institutions that guarantee them, among which is freedom of the press. Those radical progressives, our Founding Fathers, knew that the strongest defense against tyranny in our nation is the right and obligation of the press to inform the public of corruption in government, so we, the people of the United States of America, could act to eliminate it. Last Friday was the sad anniversary of a mass murder at one of the Carroll County Times’ sister publications, the Capital Gazette. In autocracies like Saudi Arabia, people who speak out against tyranny wind up butchered by the government. In Russia, reporters who express opposition to the government, that is to say, to Vladimir Putin, fall from balconies or out of windows, or sometimes are poisoned in Britain or the United States. Along with cookouts and fireworks, we should express gratitude, not contempt, for the men and women who work to provide us with the truth.

I wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July, and to continue enjoying the benefits of living in our great nation on this, its 243rd birthday.

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