The Bill of Rights Fourth


On this Fourth of July 200 years ago, the nation was just months away from the end of a 15-year epic in the forging of its destiny.

It began in Philadelphia in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. Then came the long years of war, victory over Britain, an imperfect union under the Articles of Confederation, a more perfect union under the Constitution and then the glorious crowning of that document through the Bill of Rights, which was finally ratified on Dec. 15, 1791.

The rest is history. What the Founding Fathers wrought was the most successful experiment in governance that humankind has ever known.

Today, the American Idea is the World Idea. Freedom from outside domination, freedom from oppressive government, freedom from the tyranny of the majority, freedom of conscience and expression and assemblage -- these are principles that did not just appear miraculously. They were the result of acts and will -- of sacrifice on the battlefield against great odds, of a readiness to wrestle intellectually with the problems of nationhood in the belief that reason could achieve great things.

This Fourth of July is an appropriate time for Americans to celebrate not only the Bill of Rights but the Melting Pot. All over the world, ethnicity is a bloody rage. Other nations (see Yugoslav editorial above) are being torn apart because they are uneasy coalitions of peoples, rooted in ancestral lands, who have no real wish to live together. America, too, has its ethnic and racial divisions. But for more than two centuries they have been contained by the fact that this is a polyglot country of immigrants who are fortunate enough to live in a political framework that accommodates diversity.

It is the Bill of Rights that makes this accommodation possible. In guaranteeing to the people rights that had been declared inalienable 15 years earlier in the Declaration of Independence, the first ten amendments set the framework for the endurance of liberty throughout the land.

On the Fourth of July, the most national of holidays, one that originated in a cry to battle, it is fitting that we celebrate victory in the Persian Gulf war. By all means, let us have parades and dazzling fireworks to remind ourselves that Iraq's aggression, the anxious weeks of military buildup, the launching of war and the headiness of triumph have all occurred since we last observed Independence Day. But more than that, we should seize this day to rededicate ourselves to the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Together they represent a political legacy that is the bedrock of the nation.

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