As we celebrate Independence Day and enjoy this weekend, we should remember to honor the founding fathers, the framers of the United States' constitution and the later generations who struggled to amend it and expand the freedom. It should be noted that even though most of the founding fathers were Christians, they strove to form a perfect union with a secular government that would protect the rights of religious minorities, a union that would not endorse a denomination, creed or doctrine.
They declared independence from the crown of England to enjoy the freedom to chose their own leaders, they based their model on the Roman style of representative government.

They attempted to form a more perfect union. However, no human is perfect and no system created and operated by humans is infallible; hence their attempt wasn't devoid of imperfection. Their effort was revolutionary and innovative at the time, it was a foray into uncharted waters.

Although, they didn't create a perfect system, the framework they put in place allowed future amendments and upgrade to the constitution and its interpretation by the courts. Perhaps, their greatest achievement as founders and framers of the constitution was their adoption of a constitution that was amendable and subject to revision by future generations.

At the time of independence and the adoption of the constitution, the idea of universal freedom was quixotic and it was not all inclusive. The statement, "all men are created equal," was not meant to include black men, native Americans and white women. The "men" the document was referring to were mainly white men of English origin. At that time, blacks were not only excluded from the equality debate, they were considered to be 3/5 human and as properties and chattels that could be traded freely in the open market. Although, some conscientious colonists argued against the continuous practice of slavery in the newly formed nation, they had to compromise their stance to allow the formulation of the union because those who were for slavery balked at ratifying a constitution that would divest them of their properties (slaves).

About eighty five years after independence, seventy three years after the constitution was adopted,the unresolved slavery question demanded an answer, so war erupted with the south forming a confederacy, seceding from the union and fighting to maintain the perpetuation of slavery.

President Lincoln used his executive power to free all enslaved people by signing the Emancipation Proclamation-all slaves were theoretically free with just a stroke of the president's pen.
To ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation would not be revoked by future presidents, congress used the latchkey the framers left for the constitution and amended the constitution to ban involuntary servitude in the U.S.-the 13th amendment.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection and due process under the law for the freed slaves and by operation of law declared them American citizens for the first time. 
The 15th Amendment prohibits discrimination in voting based on race or previous condition of servitude.

Yet, in spite of this great movement towards equality, the post civil war, reconstruction amendments were nothing but promissory notes that most of the states within the union were not willing to honor. Hence, for about another one hundred years, blacks were prohibited from voting and exercising their constitutional rights. In fact, the discriminatory laws were codified and sanctioned by the states. The discrimination was ingrained within the system making the amendments illusory to those it was designed to protect.
In the 1960s, the descendants of former slaves and civil right activists could not take the delinquency in the promissory note any longer, so the agitation for civil rights ensued. By 1965, about one hundred years after the amendments guaranteeing the right to vote for blacks, the civil rights act was enacted to now actually prohibit voting discrimination based on race and abolish the Jim Crow laws. The Supreme Court during this period also made historical changes by declaring segregation and miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

All these movements toward freedom and equality were made possible by the latchkey that allows amendments to the constitution and empowers the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution not just based on tradition but on the ideal of universal freedom entrenched in the framing documents. The framework of the constitution allows the court to extend freedom and rights to minorities and groups that the framers never intended to enjoy such freedom. Nevertheless, their auspicious ingenuity made this possible.

If tradition were to be the guiding light of the United States, slavery would still be legal, women unable to vote, children used for labor, blacks couldn't live or go to school with whites and Barack Obama wouldn't be the president.

As we celebrate this July 4th, we have to realize that we are a nation evolving. A nation that through its ideal, has extended freedom to the marginalized, has given hope to those who came to its shores downtrodden. It is a nation that has afforded a first generation immigrant like me to grow and make something out of myself, even though I arrived without a dime. For this, I am grateful. God bless the United States of America


 


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