July 4, 1776 was the historic day on which the representatives of three millions of people vocalized Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill, which gave notice to the world that they proposed to establish an independent nation on the theory that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The wonder and glory of the American people is not the ringing Declaration of that day, but the action then already begun, and in the process of being carried out, in spite of every obstacle that war could interpose, making the theory of freedom and equality a reality.
We revere that day because it marks the beginnings of independence, the beginnings of a constitution that was finally to give universal freedom and equality to all American citizens — the beginnings of a government that was to recognize beyond all others the power and worth and dignity of man. There began the first of governments to acknowledge that it was founded on the sovereignty of the people. There the world first beheld the revelation of modern democracy.
Democracy is not a tearing down; it is a building up. It is not denial of the divine right of kings; it supplements that same with the assertion of the divine right of all men. It does not destroy; it fulfills. It is the consummation of all theories of government, the spirit of which all the nations of the earth must yield. It is the great constructive course of the ages. It is the alpha and omega of man’s relation to man, the beginning and the end. There is, and can be, no more doubt of the triumphs of democracy in human affairs than there is of the triumph of gravitation in the physical world. The only question is how and when. Its foundation lays hold upon eternity. It is unconcerned with the idolatry, or despotism, or treason, or rebellion, or betrayal, but bows in reverence before Moses, or Hamden, or Washington, or Lincoln, or the lights that shone on Calvary.
The doctrine of the Declaration of Independence predicated upon the glory of man and the corresponding duty to society that the rights of citizens ought to be protected with every power and resource of the state, and a government that does any less is false to the teachings of that great document — false to the name American. The assertion of human rights is not but a call of human sacrifice. This is yet the spirit of the American people. Only so long as this flame burns shall we endure, and the light of liberty be shed over the nations of the earth. May the increase of the years increase for America only the devotion to this spirit, only the intensity of this flame, and the eternal truth of [Lowell’s] lines: “What were our lives without thee — what all our lives to save thee? We recked not but we gave thee. We will not dare to doubt thee. But ask whatever else and we will dare.”