BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The celebration was of not just any declaration. The document that was signed at great peril by 56 men from 13 colonies is formally titled, “In Congress, July 4, 1776, the Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.”
Most of us can readily recite the opening lines, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Unfortunately, by the time we finish the first paragraph or two of that document that we claim means so much to us, we lay it aside and become distracted by some lesser obviation. I urge you this year to read further.
You will find that it is not calling for freedom from government. In fact, it sought the institution of a government that would reflect the needs of the colonists and pointed out that the British Crown had ignored earlier pleas to address those needs and had hindered and prevented the colonists from enacting their own laws that were “wholesome and necessary for the public good.”
Unanimously, the 13 states complained that the Crown was “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither” and “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.” These and many other abuses compelled these 56 men to have the courage to sign, at great peril, ourDeclaration of Independence.
Therefore, when the people of France, presented a gift, a statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World” to be placed in New York Harbor it was fitting that on the tablet that Lady Liberty held was inscribed the date, July 4, 1776 and it became even more fitting that the memorial to the date of the Declaration of Independence and the beacon torch were located in the harbor only a few hundred yards from Ellis Island where 12 million immigrants seeking a better life for themselves and their families entered the country between 1892 and 1924.
It was during that era that a young American poet named Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus.” Emma had been born in New York City into a Jewish family who had lived in New York since long before the American Revolution. As comfortable as her family was, she became aware of struggles of others around the world that were oppressed because of their religion and thus unable to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness in the countries where they lived.
Some would say that the promises of this country and the new statute and the beacon of hope that they represented gave Emma inspiration as she penned these words: “Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles” and “From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command … Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Some would say that Emma Lazarus communicated America’s Finest Hour, the reason for our Declaration of Independence.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House