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Independence Day celebration

Thoughts from Behind the Pressline

This past week, we celebrated our nation’s independence and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It’s a week of picnics, parades, a night of concerts and fireworks, and a reason to fly the American flag. But what does “independence” really mean in today’s ever-changing and fast-paced world?

The freedoms we enjoy today continue to be reaffirmed and renewed as our nation evolves and redefines the word “independence.” But like most things in this country, there always seems to be more than one side to its definition. 

Is independence merely the fact that we control our own borders and are not governed by a foreign nation, or is independence more about the freedoms provided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through our society and culture? While the U.S. is far from perfect, our nation is still envied around the world as thousands flock to our borders annually and nations around the globe attempt to emulate what’s been created here.

As a nation of free people, the definitions of “freedom” and “independence” will continue to seek new limits. Last week, the Supreme Court affirmed gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. While many applaud that legislation, others are outraged at the actions of our elected officials.

Other major issues around the nation in the midst of refinement include late-term abortions, voters’ rights and immigration. What’s considered free to one person can easily be considered offensive or criminal to another person. Public opinion and political correctness aside, this new-found freedom will be forced to undergo the test of time.

Throughout history, we’ve seen changes in our freedoms. In the 1920s, the government outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor. It led to the first and only time an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed, 13 years later. While President Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863, which gave them the right to vote, few made it to the polls as whites found ways to limit their access to vote. In 1866, Congress passed a civil rights bill granting citizenship to anyone born in the U.S. … except Native Americans. It took until 1920 for women to earn the right to vote. It was 1924 before Native Americans were declared citizens and 1944 before they could vote in an open election. Today, human rights that would seem common sense took years to accomplish and for attitudes to change. Is it a fear of the unknown, bias or simply that the next generation sees things differently than those who may have lived through an experience? 

Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at dan@newmarketpressvt.com or dan@denpubs.com.

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