I’ve always been partial to this speech by John F. Kennedy, particularly its first half. It seemed worth sharing on this Independence Day, and I hope you’ll absorb and enjoy it.
Kennedy’s task was to express American support for the unfolding emergence of a new European community committed to greater political unity and economic interdependence free from colonial possessions. But to get there, he first reminded his audience about the grander ideas and more fundamental principles at stake in the shaping of a more free world. Kennedy can be seen here attempting to make freedom America’s #1 export. While he understood doing so to be an important check against the advance of communism, he kept his rhetoric relatively free from such literal moorings. He chose to inspire with ideas rather than joust with politics. The result is a masterful collection of words worthy of occasional revisitation.
Speaking through the ages, JFK reminds us of the virtue of a system that champions both unity and dissent, encouraging differences and celebrating the right to harbor and express them peacefully but freely.
This is still our system, with all its wonder and progress coexisting alongside its hair-pulling frustration and incalculable friction. It remains worth celebrating 239 years after it was given life … bequeathing to us a free country along with the sacred obligation to care for it. The question we must ask ourselves on Independence Day is whether we are living up to that obligation as our founders would have expected … and whether we’re fully affirming, harvesting, and sharing the fruits of the freedom they secured for us.
Kennedy on the Declaration of Independence:
“it is still a revolutionary document … to read it today is to hear a trumpet call.
“….a document, not of rhetoric, but of bold decision. It was, it is true, a document of protest, but protests had been made before. It set forth their grievances with eloquence, but such eloquence had been heard before. But what distinguished this paper from all the others was the final, irrevocable decision that it took … to assert the independence of free states in place of colonies and to commit to that goal their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The best leaders teach us about our values. Sometimes, by giving speeches that still move us 53 years later … and sometimes by raising their right hands and and committing to the goal of continued independence their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. JFK reminds us that those who started this grand experiment were not merely great authors penning thoughts about high-minded ideals. They were men of action who staked their lives to those ideals.
On this Independence Day, save a thought for men and women of action … those living the revolutionary example of our founders, and in turn setting an example for the rest of us to admire and hopefully vindicate.