A time to pass on ideals and values of heritage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 July, 1995, 12:00am

TODAY marks the 219th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the 13 colonies of North America announced to the world their independence from Britain.

This was the first concrete step towards the establishment of the United States of America.

This is a joyous day for Americans everywhere.

We tend to celebrate the occasion in a casual style, with picnics during the day and fireworks at night.

The Fourth of July conjures for most of us images of sunny days at the beach or in parks, eating lots of good food and enjoying the fun of races and other games.

But always in the back of our minds should be the realisation that the signing of the Declaration of Independence on that Fourth of July, the Fourth of July in 1776, was anything but a casual matter.

Few people are aware that a number of the original delegates balked at signing the declaration; they were replaced by men with more radical views.

Our nation was brought into being by brave people who risked their lives for the principles they believed in.

At the time the Founding Fathers signed the declaration, blood had already been shed at Lexington and Concord.

By setting their names to the document, they were committing treason in the eyes of the mother country, and they believed it was possible that they would end up being executed as criminals.

Of course, as we all know, things did not turn out that way.

But on the Fourth of July, all Americans should remember the spirit of courage and sacrifice in which our country was born and re-dedicate ourselves to the principles of democracy, impartial justice and respect for humanity which led our forebears to take the action they did on this day 219 years ago.

This heritage also binds us in empathy and sympathy to those peoples who are striving today to build their nations on the same principles for which our ancestors stood.

The United States has come a long way in the last 219 years.

Who among the small, overwhelming agrarian nation which they made: Would be called a superpower and be acknowledged as the world leader in such diverse fields as post-graduate education, computer and information technologies, and motion picture production? Would encompass not 13 states but 50 and spread geographically not only from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but into the islands of the Pacific and the vast expanse of Alaska? Would see its population grow by a factor of one hundred, from about 2.7 million in 1776 to about 260 million today? Would develop a culture and way of life so attractive to the rest of the world that almost a million immigrants are admitted every year, and many more would like to come if they could? These achievements have come about because the generations which have lived between our time and the time of Thomas Jefferson have made the most of the values and institutions which the Declaration of Independence enshrined.

They have all been - by and large - idealistic, industrious, self-reliant people who have succeeded in passing down to us their heritage.

So, now, on July 4, 1995, as Americans bask on the beach, devour hot dogs and beer in the sunshine and enjoy watching their children contend in three-legged races, let us not forget what we are celebrating. Let us not forget that, when the fun and fellowship of this day is over, we must go back to the work of preserving the precious way of life we have been given.

It is our turn to pass on the spirit of the declaration - the pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - to the next generation, by treasuring it not only on the Fourth of July, but every day of our lives.