By David Harmer
Freedoms Foundation today honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose most famous speech was solidly rooted in the ideals of the American founding. Before we quote his words, let’s put them in context.
July 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence officially inaugurates the American experiment. But the work of the founders isn’t done. Declaring independence is one thing; obtaining it, quite another.
Sept. 3, 1783: The Revolutionary War ends in American victory; Great Britain recognizes the independence of the United States. But the work of the founders isn’t done. The States are United only in name, not in fact.
Sept. 17, 1787: The miracle at Philadelphia culminates in the signing of the Constitution. But the work of the founders isn’t done. Ratification—over strenuous opposition—is required.
Sept. 13, 1788: The Congress of the Confederation certifies that the Constitution has been duly ratified. But the work of the founders isn’t done. Several states have conditioned their ratification on adoption of a Bill of Rights.
Dec. 15, 1791: Ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution—the Bill of Rights—is completed. But the work of the founding isn’t done. The rights set forth are secured for many—but denied to others.
Nov. 19, 1863: Speaking at Gettysburg, President Lincoln says the Civil War is testing whether “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal … can long endure.” Thankfully, it does. But the work of the founding isn’t done.
Dec. 6, 1865 – February 3, 1870: Following the war, the nation experiences, as Lincoln had resolved, “a new birth of freedom.” The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery; the 14th extends equal protection of the laws to all; the 15th affirms the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous servitude.
Aug. 28, 1963: A century after the Civil War, state-mandated segregation persists. Speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King says:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. …
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge was established to build an understanding of the spirit of the United States Constitution. Of that spirit, Ezra Taft Benson, who served in the President’s cabinet throughout the Eisenhower Administration, said:
The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were under no illusion that their work was done. They had carried freedom up to a new high, but had no idea that a pinnacle had been reached, that having reached the summit there was no more to be done. They were confident that we of succeeding generations would carry on.
May this day reinforce our resolve to do so.
David Harmer is president and CEO of Freedoms Foundation. firstname.lastname@example.org
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