[With apologies to a couple of very long-time readers who have read a version of this before . . .]
One of my favorite things to do July 4th is to buy the New York Times, knowing that its back page will be a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence, and that I will be able to read it out loud to whatever younger folks happen to be around.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," wrote Thomas Jefferson, one of the largest slave-owners in Virginia. "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."
I rarely get through the entire list of grievances against King George III. (Did you see The Madness of King George? Great movie. If it rains Sunday, why not rent it — and 1776?) But there is something wonderfully anchoring about reading these words, written so long ago, that are so fundamental to our freedom, that connect us to each other, and that so changed the world — and continue to do so today.
And the fact that Jefferson was, until the day he died, a slave-owner, far from putting the lie to any of this, merely emphasizes it. The Declaration is about fundamental fairness and the need to change when things are unjust. Over the years, the notion of people pursuing their happiness with equal rights — whether they be black or Jewish or women or gay — has steadily gained ground.
In Turkey today a woman needs signed permission from her husband to work. In Albania, until a few years ago, two men could be imprisoned for 10 years for loving each other. Even in America, as recently as 1960, it was anyone’s guess whether a Catholic (gasp!) could be elected president. Who would have imagined that the number one draft choice of the Republican party in 1996 would have been a black general? Or that in the summer of 1999 the Stonewall Inn — where 30 years earlier a group of citizens who had had it with police harassment fought back — would be added to the National Register of Historic Places?
It’s a bull market that, with ups and downs, began 223 years ago tomorrow. Drive safely.