Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Fourth of July Observance
Department of Justice Courtyard
June 30, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Thank you, Joanne.
"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."
On Sunday, June 30, 1776, a day of reflection, Thomas Jefferson was sitting alone in his rented room in Philadelphia scratching out those words. He was hopeful that they would inspire the birth of a nation; his compatriot, John Adams, doubted they would.
Two days later, on July 2, 1776, the Founders voted to break ties with the British crown. Adams thought that act would inspire the citizenry toward independence.
Adams wrote home to his wife Abigail, "The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable in the history of America," he wrote. "It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and Illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."
Two days later, on July 4, the founding patriots signed our Declaration of Independence, and sent it out for all to hear.
Jefferson and Adams argued over many things during that hot and humid summer in 1776. But on the point of an inspired citizenry, we know today that Jefferson was right.
It is the Declaration's ideals that we celebrate from one end of the continent to the other. We confirm the courage of the words our Founders stated for all the world to hear. We commemorate the revolutionary concepts that changed the course of human history.
Never before had the birth of a nation been heralded by a declaration. Never before had a nation's birth conveyed a message of hope for all mankind.
Four score and five years after our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration, President Lincoln marveled at its genius. The Declaration, he said, "gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men."
We are living in a critical time for freedom. Half way around the world, the brave men and women of the United States military continue to defend liberty, to lift that weight from the shoulders of men, women and children. We should always remember our Armed Forces, but on July 4 especially, they should be on our minds and in our prayers.
Here at home, the values set down in our Declaration of Independence continue to light our path toward the challenges and possibilities of the future. Liberty, equality, opportunity - these are the values we help protect. These are the values reaffirmed daily by each of us here at the Department of Justice.
The work we undertake confirms the wisdom of the ideals that have inspired generations the world over. It extends and enlivens the unique American spirit that defined our nation from its earliest moments.
President Bush has asked all of us to invigorate that spirit of citizenship. We do it here, but we should also do it beyond the walls of the Department of Justice, in our homes, on our streets, throughout our communities.
We should nurture this spirit of service, whether through mentoring young people who need a guiding hand, bringing companionship to those who have no one, or providing more to those who have less.
I can also think of no better moment or more fitting opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to the cause of preserving what the Declaration stands for - justice and the rule of law, individual rights and personal responsibility. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Thank you for all of your dedication and your service. God bless you, your families, and God bless the United States of America.