Americans Still Embrace the Spirit of ’76
Our nation’s 237th birthday is being celebrated in many ways that have become familiar over the years. Fifteen percent of Americans will watch a parade; 29 percent will sing patriotic songs; 63 percent will enjoy a cookout with family and friends; 78 percent are likely to see fireworks.
Sixty-one percent consider Independence Day one of our nation’s most important holidays.
We celebrate July 4 with the enthusiasm of a loved one’s birthday because we love our country. Seventy-seven percent would live here even if they had the chance to live anywhere else on the planet.
But despite our love for America, we recognize that it’s not perfect. Only 47 percent believe ours is truly a land with liberty and justice for all. Fewer than half believe our economic system is fair to the middle class or fair to those willing to work hard. Only 34 percent believe our system of justice is fair to those who are poor.
That’s where the Declaration of Independence comes in. That document, one of the most cherished and important documents in the history of mankind, did more than found our nation. It defined our national ideals. Despite all the changes of the past two centuries, Americans still embrace those founding ideals.
Seventy-two percent continue to believe governments derive their only just authority from the consent of the governed.
Eighty-one percent believe all of us were created equal.
Ninety-two percent believe we have all been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Put it all together, and what the Declaration of Independence proposed was then a radical concept — self-governance. Kings did not possess a divine right to rule. Individuals had divine rights, including the right to select their rulers. In fact, as our nation’s founding document described it, the whole purpose of a government was to protect individual rights.
What was radical then is deeply embedded in the cultural DNA of our nation today. We believe that we have the right to make our own decisions about our own lives so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. We use our freedom to solve problems by working together in communities.
This attitude was described by Thomas Jefferson and others as “the Spirit of ’76.” It continues to create problems for political elites today because 63 percent think there is more danger with a government that is too powerful than with one that is not powerful enough.
This concern is amplified by the fact that most voters view the government today as a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights. Most Americans also now believe the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.
Only one in four voters today thinks our government has the consent of the governed. That’s a clear call for our government to change its ways and re-earn the trust of those it is supposed to serve. Those are the kind of attitudes that make the Political Class nervous. The fact that we expect more comes from the fact that we as a nation still embrace the Spirit of ’76.