July 4, 2019
by Victor Riches
In late June 1826, Thomas Jefferson wrote his final public letter to Washington, D.C., Mayor Roger C. Weightman, declining an invitation to attend festivities in the nation’s capital to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In sending his regrets, Jefferson reflected on the significance of the occasion:
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
Just days later, Jefferson passed away on Independence Day (coincidentally, the same day as his fellow Founding Father John Adams). But the words he wrote in his last letter should continue to serve as an inspiration and a challenge to all Americans who care about the foundation of freedom on which this country was built.
And make no mistake: The health and survival of liberty is by no means guaranteed. Today, state and local governments—courts and legislatures alike—chip away at individual rights, from school choice to property rights to our ability to earn a living. At the same time, hand-wringing politicians question the value of freedom, ignoring the benefits it bestows on all people and instead favoring a larger role for bureaucracy.
Our efforts at the Goldwater Institute are focused on stemming this tide and creating environments in which freedom can flourish. We’re leading the nation in expanding the right to earn an honest living. We’re in capitals and courtrooms across the country defending property rights. And we’re leading the charge to defend the freedom of speech, from college campuses to the Supreme Court. To us, that’s the best way to honor America each and every day.
As we reflect this week on the state of freedom in this country, now more than ever, we should take Jefferson’s words from his final letter to heart: Yes, Independence Day is a day of celebration, but it must also be a day of recommitment to the principles that make America worth celebrating and make it a beacon of hope for others.
Victor Riches is President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.