The Fourth of July presents the occasion not only to celebrate our great country, but also to reflect upon its meaning.
The division between today’s liberals and conservatives is not irreducible to policy differences. It is indicative of a deeper debate about the meaning of America.
Such debates are not new.
Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, often celebrated America’s birthday (which was also his) by defending America’s principles against the challengers within the “progressive movement.”
The progressive movement began in the early 20th century and included academics, journalists, and even politicians. They asserted that America had advanced beyond the principles of the Declaration of Independence. All men were not created equal; some peoples were more historically advanced than others. Rights do not come from nature; government creates rights. Legislation did not require the consent of the people; it required technical expertise to regulate every aspect of life. These propositions had tremendous implications for governing.
On the contrary, Coolidge responded. There is finality to the Declaration: “If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.”
Let us remember those words this Fourth of July.