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For me, the Fourth of July has always meant a celebratory day of picnics and fireworks. I’m sure Thursday night’s planned pyrotechnics at the Civic Center in Mineola will not disappoint.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the nation’s original birthday 243 years ago, when a band of rebels proclaimed a Declaration of Independence from the world’s most powerful kingdom. The document repudiated the British monarchy and announced the birth of a new nation. The world would never be the same.

The Declaration of Independence listed 27 colonial grievances against King George II as rationale for severing the bonds with Great Britain. But more than enumerating complaints, the Declaration serves as an enduring manifesto for human rights, especially its second sentence: “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.”

In 1776 those lofty ideals applied only to white males. Only through decades of monumental struggle and horrific bloodshed would the same principles extend to men of color. It would be 143 years before women in America gained equal footing with men – if only in the voting booth. The march toward justice and equality in this country has been long and difficult.

Still, for its time, the Declaration advanced a revolutionary notion in a world controlled for centuries by monarchs and despots – the anointed ones who regarded talk of “equality,” “unalienable rights” and “liberty” as heresy. More radical still was the belief that a nation’s people could govern themselves through a democratic process, or that character and deeds define a person’s value more than their blood line.

In 1977, 35 of 143 countries in the world (24%) qualified as democracies, while 89 (62%) were classified as autocracies, according to the Pew Research Center. There’s no question that democracy is under threat today in some corners of the world as autocrats work tirelessly to consolidate power. Still, the arc of history suggests democratic ideals will persist. By the end of 2017, some form of democracy was practiced by 96 out of 167 countries in the world (57%).  

Despite the passage of almost two and a half centuries, through ceaseless wars and social upheavals, the principles exposed in the Declaration of Independence still pull like a magnet here and abroad. People still strive to be free, to live in just societies, to pursue happiness.

Fuses will be lit for an array of sky rockets over the Fourth of July as we celebrate the nation’s birthday. When you’re watching those magnificent, dazzling explosions of light and color set the night sky aglow, think briefly about those guys 243 years ago in Philadelphia who lit a different fuse.

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