The national holiday we celebrate today is more often referred to as the Fourth of July than Independence Day, but at least that makes clear what date we are marking. We should, however, commemorate the historical event and all that it symbolizes, for the common world calendar ensures that the whole world has a July 4th just we like do. American independence has transcendent constitutional significance. No other nation in the world before 1776 had ever established (constituted) itself in the world on the basis of political principles which are true for all times and places. The most famous part of the Declaration of Independence is "all men are created equal," rather than merely all Americans, or all whites or even all males.
Cynics are fond of ridiculing the language of the Declaration because they think they really know that its authors didn’t mean to include everybody. After all, the pre-revolutionary institution of slavery was not immediately abolished, women were not generally regarded as equal in rights to men, and the vote was not even extended to all males. So it was all a pretense, right?
Wrong. Northern states prohibited slavery by the time the Constitution was ratified, women had the right to vote in several states, north and south, and the voting franchise was extended to most white males within a generation or two.
Of course, we had no power to "secure these rights" anywhere else but on our own soil, and that was hard enough, as the Civil War and the long struggle for civil rights attest. But the meaning of independence, in the first place, is that the American people, through their chosen representatives, were free to throw off ancient shackles as soon as possible, however much they might disagree about the timing or even the wisdom of that welcome change.
In other words, no European nation, however powerful or influential, could impede the progress of the American people toward their fullest security for equality and liberty. America would long remain the only country so free, as Europeans underwent a cycle of violent revolutions and even world wars before that greatest of all battles was won. And the rest of the world took even longer, with a decidedly mixed record of success.
For much of our history we have been a beacon to other nations and peoples, drawing millions to our shores and inspiring revolutions abroad. An almost inevitable consequence of the influence was that the growing power of the United States has spared the world some of its greatest evils.
Depending on their agenda or what part of the Constitution they are talking about, both liberals and conservatives like to argue that the American government is severely restricted in its power and authority in order to ensure our freedoms against infringement. But they fail to understand what Alexander Hamilton, for example, understood, which was that "the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; [and] that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated . . . "
The most fundamental obligations of the government of the United States are to "provide for the common defense" and "promote the general welfare." In the midst of revolution without a national government, the Continental Congress had to find a way to fulfill these obligations, and barely succeeded. The object of the Constitution was not to give us a weak government but rather a powerful one.
Living in a world of monarchical governments, hostile Indian tribes and fierce pirates, the government needed to be, in Hamilton’s words, "energetic," not lethargic. The world is a dangerous place always, the only difference at any time being the nature and scope of the dangers. Had the national government not possessed the requisite power, the authority of the Union would not have been upheld against secession.
A united America is a boon to the world. Consider if our nation had not been united under one energetic government when in 1916 German submarines began to sink our ships and patrol our Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, not to mention block our shipping lines overseas. Only a strong American government could have kept the Gulf of Mexico from becoming a German lake.
More ominously still, consider the horrendous consequences if we had not had the means to keep Great Britain in the war against Nazi Germany until such time as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and brought us into a two-front war. Our military, industrial and financial power was critical.
In both world wars, American power was decisive. In the earlier conflict, Germany defeated Czarist Russia at about the same time as America entered the war on the side of the Allies. Absent American intervention, how does the thought of a Prussian dictatorship all over Europe strike you?
In the later war, an even more tyrannical German regime left unchecked would have held sway all over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and perhaps farther, doubtless putting an end to liberty for decades, if not centuries.
The superpower status of the United States kept most of the world safe from Soviet domination and ultimately proved too much for that evil empire to survive its own inherent weakness and inferiority. Today our government is the primary check on the world's despots and their blood brothers, the Islamist fanatics plotting against our freedom.
In sum, American independence means that we Americans alone decide how we are to be governed, and our formidable power has blocked or ended the rule of overbearing empires. This great good we celebrate today is a blessing for all mankind.