The American Idea

I witnessed something truly wonderful and altogether the other night, July 3, 2018, at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park Fourth of July Laser Show and Fireworks Celebration. The show itself was the best I’ve seen in its thirty-five years history. But the wonderful and encouraging part was the people in attendance. Thousands of people! People of different ethnicity, cultures, colors, creeds – you name it – they were there. They were there for hours pressed close together on a hot, hazy and humid Georgia summer night. And they were there sitting and eating together; standing and singing together; making noise and celebrating together.

I’m very sure that among such a multitude, the opinions, politics, beliefs and preferences were as diverse as the people themselves. Yet there they were, shoulder-to-shoulder, all celebrating the one thing they had in common – the United States of America. More than a country; America is an idea worth celebrating.

America is the idea that we the people of the United States are America.[i] America is not the government or Washington, D.C. Strictly speaking, it is not even its borders or member states. America is her people! We are America! And history demonstrates that when America stands united, the enemies of freedom for humanity are overcome, the blessings of liberty are expanded in the world and secured for future generations.

America is the idea that all men (persons) are created equal.[ii] Human equality is an eternal fact not subject to human evaluation, and our Founders deemed it first among those truths self-evident.  And, although the awareness was not the praxis of all the Declaration’s signers, still they affirmed it unanimously – something quite unique in the history of nations. Also, it should be recognized by Americans today that, though America has its own record of human rights violations, no country in history has exerted greater effort or expended more blood to correct its own injustices. It has long been said, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”[iii]

America is the idea that all persons are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Other nations were established on the divine right of kings; some still are. America was and is established on the divine rights of all persons, not just potentates, politicians or those otherwise powerful. The Declaration’s list of rights is not exhaustive but emphasizes three: the right to life, the right to liberty in life, and the right to pursue a happy life.  It states further that the reason we have governments is to secure these rights. Prior to America, the nature and construct of governments was to preserve the governments. But the Declaration of Independence defined the responsibility of government, and the Constitution of the United States proscribed the reach of government – all in favor of the peoples’ rights.

Now we certainly can all agree that the American idea is not yet the American ideal. To parody the Apostle Paul in the New Testament – we have not yet taken hold of all that our Founders envisioned. But united together we press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:13-14).  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it probably best of anyone: ‘“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”[iv] Dr. King spoke those words during what was perhaps the most socially tumultuous and culturally trans-formative decade in American history. Yet never did he advocate the abolition of the American idea, but rather that the American dream, that all men are created equal, be fully apprehended.

Now, in our own tumultuous and trans-formative moment in history, we do well – all of us – to heed the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and remember the dream of Dr. King. Whatever our differences politically and otherwise, let us – the people of the United States – stand together to celebrate the idea that is America and to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”[v] That spirit, that attitude, that idea was on display at Stone Mountain Park in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on the eve of America’s 242nd Fourth of July, and I was proud to see it. God bless America!



[i] The Constitution of the United States, Sept 17, 1787.

[ii] The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

[iii] Justice – Wikiquote.

[iv] “I Have a Dream” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, 1963.

[v] “Gettysburg Address” Abraham Lincoln, Nov 19, 1863.

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