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A nation that still falls short of its ideals

"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." So wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and with the Fourth of July holiday less than two weeks away, it is appropriate to reflect on these familiar words from the Declaration of Independence.

July 4 was chosen as our "Independence Day" because it was the date that the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. For the first two decades after the Declaration was written, people didn't celebrate it much, but after the War of 1812 printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826, hours apart from each other, further helped promote the idea of July 4 as a date to be celebrated.

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Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went by. In 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress declared July 4 to be a national holiday.

As we celebrate with family, cookouts, parades and fireworks, we need more than ever to be aware of the contradiction between the claim that "all men are created equal" and the existence of American slavery.

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This contradiction attracted comment as early as 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was first published. Abolitionist Thomas Day, responding to the hypocrisy in the Declaration wrote, "If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves."

So even in its infancy, our country had the contradictions that persist to this day — between American patriots who wanted independence for themselves while believing in a doctrine of white supremacy that allowed them to own other human beings, and abolitionists who pointed out the disparity between our ideals and the reality.

As the shooting in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlotte has made clear, the legacy of the sin of white supremacy remains with us today. We still have a lot of work to do to make the ideal of equality a reality.

Carol Rice, Baltimore

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