To my fellow-citizens and to all who aspire to U.S. citizenship, Happy Independence Day!
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all... 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." - U.S. Declaration of Independence
Read it all
I graduated from high school 32 years ago, back in 1976, when the U.S. was celebrating its bicentennial. The motto of my graduating class: "Our Heritage is Freedom".
I would contend that most of the national debate in this country, going back to its very beginning, has had to do with the meaning of this one word: "freedom": specifically, such debates (including the Civil War) have often dealt with the question of how to resolve situations in which my "freedom" conflicts with your "liberty" or vice-versa. Such conflict, of course, is inevitable, and exposes the major flaw in contemporary libertarianism. The playing fields of power, whether political or economic, must be kept more-or-less level, and in the final analysis, only government can accomplish this. This is accomplished, within the U.S. government itself, by the checks-and-balances imposed by the consitutionally-mandated separation of powers between three co-equal branches, the legislative, executive, and judicial ("three co-equal": where have we heard that kind of language before?).
Finally, after you've read the Declaration of Independence, you would do well to acquire and read a book called Habits of the Heart. The major theme in this book concerns four traditions that lie at the foundation of the United States: Christian communalism (represented by the Puritan founders of Massachusetts); Enlightenment republicanism (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, et. al.); "Utilitarian individualism" (Franklin and other entrepreneurs); and "Expressive individualism" (represented, somewhat later, by Walt Whitman). The book is largely about how each of these orientations continues to affect our lives, both as persons and as a society.