5. Calvin Coolidge, Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration, Philadelphia, Pa., July 5, 1926: On a day usually festooned with florid prose, Coolidge’s speech stands out for its measured, contemplative style. With scholarly thoroughness, the 30th president traced the intellectual and spiritual lineage of the Declaration, praising it not merely as a burst of revolutionary effulgence from a brilliant few, but as “the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people.” He stressed the religious origins of the American experiment:
Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these . . . have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish.
And in perhaps the most memorable passage, he affirmed the absolute truths contained in that document:
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.
6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Radio Address from Hyde Park, N.Y., July 4, 1941: While Wehrmacht divisions poured into Soviet territory and the Japanese naval high command plotted the attack on Pearl Harbor, America whiled away the rainy summer of 1941 with unease. In his July 4 radio address, FDR sought to rouse the country from isolationism, warning that “the fundamentals of 1776 are being struck down abroad and definitely, they are threatened here”:
All of us who lie awake at night, all of us who study and study again, know full well that in these days we cannot save freedom with pitchforks and muskets alone after a dictator combination has gained control of the rest of the world. . . . I tell the American people solemnly that the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship. And so it is that when we repeat the great pledge to our country and to our flag, it must be our deep conviction that we pledge as well our work, our will and, if it be necessary, our very lives.
7. Ronald Reagan, “What July Fourth Means to Me,” July 4, 1981: In his first Independence Day address as president, Reagan began with an anecdote about shooting off firecrackers as a boy and a legend about a ghostly figure at the signing of the Declaration. However, he soon turned to more serious matters. In great detail the 40th president described the terrible sacrifice borne by the signers after their day of glory had passed — and with pride he reflected on the legacy that accrues to us from that sacrifice:
John Hart was driven from the side of his desperately ill wife. For more than a year he lived in the forest and in caves before he returned to find his wife dead, his children vanished, his property destroyed. He died of exhaustion and a broken heart. Carter Braxton of Virginia lost all his ships, sold his home to pay his debts, and died in rags. And so it was with Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Rutledge, Morris, Livingston, and Middleton. Nelson personally urged Washington to fire on his home and destroy it when it became the headquarters for General Cornwallis. Nelson died bankrupt. But they sired a nation that grew from sea to shining sea. Five million farms, quiet villages, cities that never sleep, 3 million square miles of forest, field, mountain and desert, 227 million people with a pedigree that includes the bloodlines of all the world.
— Will Allen is an editorial intern at National Review.