As we celebrate the nation's birthday and think about what it means to be an American, it is altogether fitting and proper to remember that we are a nation of laws, founded on a philosophy of defined freedoms.
On this day above all others, it is important to reflect on the philosophy that inspired so many, including our ancestors here in the Hudson Valley.
Gentlemen all, they started by politely explaining that what they were about to do was inevitable:
"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
Then they set forth the beliefs that guide us today:
"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.
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
They knew above all that they would have to work and fight together to realize that vision and that their very lives were at risk.
Thus, they finished their declaration by leaving no doubt about their commitment: "We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
From that first declaration of our independence during this week in 1776, the enumeration of those principles and powers evolved into the Constitution, starting with what now might be known as a mission statement:
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Yet those words and the details that followed were not enough for some of the patriots who thought that the rights of the ordinary citizen needed to be enumerated. Thus, we began as a nation with the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights. They went into effect on Dec. 15, 1791, and have been the source of our strength — as well as the subject of debate — ever since.
The founding fathers did not all agree with all of this. Some of them did not like the others very much and trusted them even less. But they understood that what they had in common was more important than that which divided them, something worth remembering today.