When President Reagan began his Fourth of July remarks from aboard the USS John F. Kennedy in 1986, he knew his speech was the only thing standing between a patriotic crowd and a huge fireworks display over New York Harbor. He recalled a saying from his days back in Hollywood about never doing a scene with kids or animals, because they would always steal the scene. "Rest assured," he said, "I wouldn't even think about trying to compete with a fireworks display, especially on the Fourth of July."
As members of our communities in California and Americans across the country look forward to celebrating with family and friends today, I will take a page from President Reagan's script. But if one thing ought to be remembered, it is that all of today's celebrations -- from the Central Valley to the Antelope Valley to the Indian Wells Valley and all the way to the East Coast -- are connected by the history of this day, July 4. Summoned by the Liberty Bell's ring in 1776, Philadelphians gathered in front of Independence Hall to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Afterwards, shouting, muskets firing in the air, and bells chiming could be heard throughout the city. And as copies of the Declaration spread, the celebration rippled through the nation.
But the days and months leading up to Independence Day were dark ones. It was a time filled with uncertainty and danger. The Founding Fathers risked their lives when they signed the Declaration because they knew, as Thomas Jefferson said, that the principle of freedom itself was not enough -- it had to be inherently inscribed within a foundational document. They were brave, and their courage not only inspired the fight for freedom but led our nation through the Revolutionary War. Their courage created the first nation founded on the principle that all people are born with the right to be free.
"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." The guiding principles of our democratic republic, these words also represent hope to billions around the world. From the local veterans I have the honor of meeting on Kern County Honor Flight trips to the young students in our communities who choose to attend U.S. service academies, it is thanks to all of the heroic women and men who selflessly fight to defend and protect our freedom that America continues to be a beacon of democracy and symbol of hope to the world.
There will always be obstacles that test our strength and unity as a nation, and foreign enemies who do not ascribe to our beliefs. It is easy to focus on what makes us different from each other. But the history of this day reminds us that America was not founded on an ethnicity or a religion, but a creed. We believe that every man, woman and child has an equal and God-given right to liberty, to a fair chance at happiness and success. It is our duty to ensure that freedom is protected and preserved for generations to come.
In a letter to his wife, Abigail, from July 3, 1776, John Adams told her that Independence Day ought to be "celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival [...] with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." So while we remember the history and honor the sacrifice made for our nation's independence today, Presidents Adams and Reagan were making an important point: Today it is also a day to have fun and celebrate.
Let freedom ring.
Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield represents the 22nd Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.