06/19/2012 05:39 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2012

Rededicate Yourself to the Republic

These are difficult times for the republic, by any measure. Every American, across the entire political spectrum with all its subtle gradations, has that feeling. In difficult times we have always turned to the Declaration of Independence for solace and inspiration. It echoed in the work of Texas delegates as they met at Washington-on-the-Brazos in March 1836 to declare independence from Mexico. The abolitionist movement evoked its principles throughout the struggle to end the enslavement of African Americans. Women's suffrage advocates who met at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention offered modifications, declaring "all men and women are created equal." Abraham Lincoln called on its power at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863. As the Cold War heated up, the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, embraced the values of the Declaration of Independence in defiance of the unrelenting spread of communism. In August 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr., from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, crystallized the civil-rights cause by evoking the Declaration. We should again rededicate ourselves to those founding principles, and we should begin by looking carefully at our revolutionary heritage.

John Adams believed the Declaration of Independence "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." It makes you wonder if he could foresee our fireworks celebrations, our community and family gatherings and barbeques.

School is out, but this Fourth of July is a time for each of us to gather children, family, friends, and colleagues and make Independence Day a teachable moment. Every American -- child and adult -- should take time in the next two weeks to consider what Independence Day means.

Americans take independence for granted. From the perspective of history, it seems so clear, so logical -- but in 1776 there were few tangible indications that it would turn out well. This is a remarkable story, a declaration of principle so clear and articulate that it still resonates today: a compelling statement of what government is and the responsibilities of citizens in creating their common society; the statement of enlightenment principles concerning the investment of rights in the individual, not in monarchs or government; and the indictment of King George III for failing in his sacred compact with the people of North America.

That first generation dedicated "our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor" to the cause and to each other. When they spoke for themselves, they spoke also for us. Over and over again, subsequent generations of Americans have rededicated themselves to the principles of the Declaration of Independence. We hold the revolutionary generation and their accomplishments in trust for every future American.

As you, your children, your family, your friends, and your colleagues prepare for the Fourth of July this year, make it a learning experience. Read the Declaration of Independence from beginning to end -- every word. Read it aloud. Read a book about American history. I guarantee you will find the spirit of the Declaration in the actions, deeds, struggles, and triumphs of the American people. Visit an American history museum or historic site. Join Colonial Williamsburg online. We are asking Americans across the country to share with each other by video, audio, artwork, and the written word: "What does Independence Day mean to you?"

It's time. Rededicate yourself to the Declaration of Independence, the idea that is America.