Published on: July 3rd, 2020

15 Great Speeches to Remind America what Independence Day is About

This year we will celebrate the 244th anniversary of American independence. This day does not only represent the creation of a new nation, but the creation of a new civilization, one founded on the principles of freedom, self-government, and equality. Here are 15 speeches to inspire new vigor for our founding principles. Looking at who and what we were will help us remember who and what we ought to be.

 

1. Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” 1775

Patrick Henry gave this speech in 1775 at the Virginia Convention. It took place only a few months after the assembly of the first Continental Congress had sent King George III a petition for the redress of grievances. Boston Harbor was also blockaded by the British in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. Tensions were high, revolution seemed inevitable, but still many political leaders in Virginia held out hope that the relationship with Great Britain could be restored. Patrick Henry sought to dispel them of that notion.

Patrick Henry was a lawyer and had a reputation as one of the greatest opponents of British taxation. In this speech he argues passionately for independence. He made his case clear in the opening of his speech stating, “For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery…” He chides the assembly for indulging in “illusions of hope” for passively waiting “to be betrayed with a kiss” and for falling prey to the siren songs of the British.

He reminds the assembly of the lengths the colonists have gone to in order to plead their case to the British, “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.” He then states how the British have received such outreach, “Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne.”

Next is Henry’s powerful call to action, a call that would galvanize the colonies into declaring independence from Great Britain:

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave… There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Read Patrick’s entire speech here. You can also watch it here.

 

2. Samuel Adams, “On American Independence” 1776

Samuel Adams was a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, helped get the Constitution ratified in the Massachusetts Convention, and became Governor of Massachusetts in 1794.

In this speech Adams recognizes that this was not simply a battle that would determine the fate of two nations, but the fate of the world at large. He declared, “Courage, then, my countrymen; our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.”

Adams notes the ability of men to “deliberately and voluntarily” form for themselves a political society. He cites John Hampden, John Locke, and Algernon Sidney whose ideas and actions paved the way for such a feat. Of this new founding he states:

Other nations have received their laws from conquerors; some are indebted for a constitution to the suffering of their ancestors through revolving centuries. The people of this country, alone, have formally and deliberately chosen a government for themselves, and with open and uninfluenced consent bound themselves into a social compact. Here no man proclaims his birth or wealth as a title to honorable distinction, or to sanctify ignorance and vice with the name of hereditary authority. He who has most zeal and ability to promote public felicity, let him be the servant of the public. This is the only line of distinction drawn by nature. Leave the bird of night to the obscurity for which nature intended him, and expect only from the eagle to brush the clouds with his wings and look boldly in the face of the sun.

He like Patrick Henry then gives a call to action:

We have no other alternative than independence, or the most ignominious and galling servitude. The legions of our enemies thicken on our plains; desolation and death mark their bloody career, while the mangled corpses of our countrymen seem to cry out to us as a voice from heaven.

Lastly, Adams ends his address declaring the people of America the guardians of their own liberty. Then with an ode to the ancient Roman republic he ends stating, “Nothing that we propose can pass into a law without your consent. Be yourselves, O Americans, the authors of those laws on which your happiness depends.”

You can read the full speech here.

 

3. John Quincy Adams, “An Address Celebrating the Declaration of Independence” 1821

Painting of John Quincy Adams.John Quincy Adams, son of Founding Father John Adams and himself the sixth president of the United States gave this speech in 1821 in celebration of the Fourth of July. It is famous for a quote on foreign policy, but isn’t often remembered for its eloquent expression of America’s founding ideals.

Adams begins the speech recounting the first settlers of the Plymouth colony and how they entered into a written covenant with one another on the eve of their landing. Of this event he states,

Thus was a social compact formed upon the elementary principles of civil society, in which conquest and servitude had no part. The slough of brutal force was entirely cast off; all was voluntary; all was unbiased consent; all was the agreement of soul with soul.

Adams continues to trace America’s historical and political development throughout the speech. He recalls how the British mistreated the colonists from the beginning, citing how Britain went against its own ideas and principles in denying the colonists representation and consent. He states, “For the independence of North America, there were ample and sufficient causes in the laws of moral and physical nature.”

Adams’ ode to the Declaration of Independence is most worth reading:

It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude. It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people. It proved that the social compact was no figment of the imagination; but a real, solid, and sacred bond of the social union. From the day of this declaration, the people of North America were no longer the fragment of a distant empire, imploring justice and mercy from an inexorable master in another hemisphere. They were no longer children appealing in vain to the sympathies of a heartless mother; no longer subjects leaning upon the shattered columns of royal promises, and invoking the faith of parchment to secure their rights. They were a nation, asserting as of right, and maintaining by war, its own existence. A nation was born in a day.

[…]

[T]hat a new civilization had come, a new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual than that which characterized the Old World. Life in a new and open country had aspirations which could not be realized in any subordinate position. A separate establishment was ultimately inevitable. It had been decreed by the very laws of human nature. Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.

Adams goes on to pronounce that the Declaration was more than the “mere secession of territory” and the “establishment of a nation.” No, these things have occurred before, but the Declaration of Independence not only liberated America but ennobled all of humanity, he stated. 

You can read the entire speech here.

 

 4. Daniel Webster “Speech at the laying of the cornerstone of the capitol,” July 4, 1851.

Daniel Webster was one of the most prominent lawyers in the 19th century, arguing over 200 cases before the Supreme Court. He also represented New Hampshire and Massachusetts in Congress and was Secretary of State under three presidents. Webster is also known for his speech in Congress, called the Second Reply to Hayne, which derided the theory of nullification espoused by John C. Calhoun.

Webster’s speech on the occasion of laying the Capital building’s cornerstone had a patriotic tone, He begins with the celebratory declaration, “This is America! This is Washington! And this the Capitol of the United States!”

Of the Founding generation Webster stated,

The Muse inspiring our Fathers was the Genius of Liberty, all on fire with a sense of oppression, and a resolution to throw it off; the whole world was the stage and higher characters than princes trod it… how well the characters were cast, and how well each acted his part…

He went on to speak about the tremendous sacrifice the men who signed the Declaration paid. “It was sealed in blood,” he stated. Of the liberty that the Founding generation bestowed upon successive generations Webster said,

Every man’s heart swells within him; every man’s port and bearing becomes somewhat more proud and lofty, as he remembers that seventy-five years have rolled away, and that the great inheritance of liberty is still his; his undiminished and unimpaired; his in all its original glory’ his to enjoy’ his to protect; and his to transmit to future generations.

Finally, Webster made clear that American liberty is unique among nations,

I have said, gentlemen, that our inheritance is an inheritance of American liberty. That liberty is characteristic, peculiar, and altogether our own. Nothing like it existed in former times, nor was known in the most enlightened States of antiquity; while with us its principles have become interwoven into the minds of individual men…

[…]

And, finally another most important part of the great fabric of American liberty is, that there shall be written constitutions, founded on the immediate authority of the people themselves, and regulating and restraining all the powers conferred upon Government, whether legislative, executive, or judicial.

You can read the entire speech here.

 

5. Frederick Douglass, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”  July 5, 1852

Statue of Frederick Douglass.This speech is now probably the most famous Fourth of July Address and is given by the most famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass. Douglass begins the speech by praising the Declaration of Independence, signed 76 years prior, and the political liberty it brought.

He spoke about the Founding Fathers as men of courage who “preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage.” Of the “fathers of this republic” he said, “They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.”

Drawing a contrast between the Founders and the men of his generation advocating the positive good of slavery Douglass stated,

They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

Douglass encouraged Americans to celebrate the Declaration as the ring-bolt to the chains of the United Sates’ destiny. “The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost,” he stated.

Douglass then rightly points out that America was not living up to its own ideals as laid out in the Declaration when it came to the millions of black men and women still enslaved. He stated,

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Of Slavery’s effects on the American union he declared, “It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it…”

He goes on to explain that this anniversary does not yet include black men and women. He stated, “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” Yet Douglass was optimistic that this would soon change. He called the Constitution a “GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” He exhorted the assembly to consider the Constitution’s preamble and ask themselves if slavery was listed as one of its purposes.

He finished his momentous speech by saying, 

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.

You can read the entire speech here.

 

6. Abraham Lincoln, Electric Cord Speech, 1858

In this speech often titled, “Speech at Chicago, Illinois” Abraham Lincoln replies to Senator Stephen Douglas’ conception of popular sovereignty. This was a theory that argued that each new territory should be able to decide whether or not to have slavery within their borders instead of allowing the federal government to decide. Lincoln saw this as a repeal of the Missouri Compromise which kept slavery relegated to the South.

To make his case against popular sovereignty and the expansion of slavery Lincoln argues that the adopters of the Constitution decreed that slavery should not go into the new territory and that the slave trade should be cut off within twenty years by an act of Congress. “What were [these provisions] but a clear indication that the framers of the Constitution intended and expected the ultimate extinction of that institution,” Lincoln asked the crowd.

After expounding upon the evils of slavery and recent actions to preserve the institution Lincoln turns to the Declaration of Independence for support. He stated,

We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations. But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things. If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

That is the electric cord in that Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.

You can read the entire speech here.

 

7. Abraham Lincoln, Address in Independence Hall, February 22, 1861

On Abraham Lincoln's inaugural journey to Washington as president-elect, he stopped in Philadelphia at the site where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. There he said,

I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, 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. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

You can read the entire speech here.

 

8. Abraham Lincoln, Fragments on the Constitution and Union, January 1, 1861

This short selection is not part of Lincoln’s tome of public speeches. One theory is that Lincoln wrote it while composing his first inaugural address. It is noteworthy because of Lincoln’s argument that what is most important about America are the principles and ideals it was founded upon. That principle, he states, is “Liberty to all.”

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple–not the apple for the picture.

 Read the entire selection here.

 

9. Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Aside from our original founding documents the Gettysburg address is perhaps the most important American creed ever written. It signifies America’s second founding or the moment our first founding more fully aligned with its own ideals. Since its decree America has begun to live in what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom.” Here are selections from the address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

[…]

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

You can read the full text here.

 

10. Winston Churchill, “The Third Great Title-Deed of Anglo-American Liberties” July 4, 1918

Statue of Winston Churchill.During a Liberty Day rally in London near the end of World War I, Winston Churchill who was then Minister of Munitions for the wartime British Cabinet, gave a speech in honor of the 142nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In this speech Churchill references the principles that tie the two nations together:

A great harmony exists between the spirit and language of the Declaration of Independence and all we are fighting for now. A similar harmony exists between the principles of that Declaration and all that the British people have wished to stand for, and have in fact achieved at last both here at home and in the self-governing Dominions of the Crown.

The Declaration of Independence is not only an American document. It follows on Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights as the third great title-deed on which the liberties of the English-speaking people are founded.

Read the entire speech here.

 

11. Calvin Coolidge, “Speech on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 5 1926

 Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was sworn in after President Harding’s unexpected death. Harding’s administration was steeped in scandal. Coolidge is known for restoring integrity to the executive branch by rooting out corruption and being a model of integrity.

Coolidge gave his Fourth of July Speech in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our nation. There he pointed to the Liberty Bell as a great American symbol,

It is little wonder that people at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear to the uninstructed as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell of a former time, useless now because of more modern conveniences, but to those who know they have become consecrated by the use which men have made of them. They have long been identified with a great cause. They are the framework of a spiritual event.

Of the Declaration Coolidge stated,

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

Of his trust in our Founding documents he said,

It is not so much, then, for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound. Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken. Whatever perils appear, whatever dangers threaten, the Nation remains secure in the knowledge that the ultimate application of the law of the land will provide an adequate defense and protection.

Read the full speech here.

 

12. John F. Kennedy, “Some Elements of the American Character” July 4, 1946

John F. Kennedy gave this speech as a candidate for Congress. In it he offers a robust defense of America’s founding. He lauds America’s religious character and derides the theory that America’s founders were concerned purely with economic interests. He explicitly states,

In recent years, the existence of this element in the American character has been challenged by those who seek to give an economic interpretation to American history. They seek to destroy our faith in our past so that they may guide our future. These cynics are wrong…

 Kennedy instead argues,

In Revolutionary times, the cry "No taxation without representation" was not an economic complaint. Rather, it was directly traceable to the eminently fair and just principle that no sovereign power has the right to govern without the consent of the governed. Anything short of that was tyranny. It was against this tyranny that the colonists "fired the shot heard 'round the world."

Kennedy then espouses a political theory of the American founding that relies on natural rights, 

The American Constitution has set down for all men to see the essentially Christian and American principle that there are certain rights held by every man which no government and no majority, however powerful, can deny.

Conceived in Grecian thought, strengthened by Christian morality, and stamped indelibly into American political philosophy, the right of the individual against the State is the keystone of our Constitution. Each man is free.

You can read the full speech here.

 

13. Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” 1963

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is another great cry from another great man declaring that America was not living up to its founding principles.

King begins his speech by harkening back to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He states, “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” Yet, he argues, 100 years later black men and women are still not free. To right this wrong, he points to the Declaration,

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

King refused to believe that there was no hope. He said,

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

King’s dream inspired a nation to live up to its ideals. His beautiful words have become iconic,

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

 You can read and listen to the full speech here.

 

14. Martin Luther King Jr. “The American Dream” Sermon Delivered at Ebenezar Baptist Church” July 4, 1965

In this sermon delivered on July 4, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. locates the substance of the American dream within the Declaration of Independence. About the statement, “All men are created equal,” King states, “The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say “some men,” it says “all men.”

King goes on to explain to the congregation what separates the United States from other nations around the world.

 Then that dream goes on to say another thing that ultimately distinguishes our nation and our form of government from any totalitarian system in the world. It says that each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state.

As the source of these inalienable rights King points to the fact that they are God-given. “Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality,” he said.

King goes on to point out that America has not lived up to this dream. He describes America as being “divided against herself.” He argues that America cannot afford an “anemic democracy.”

He however professed hope that this dream will challenge America to remember her “noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood.” He further challenged America to respect the “dignity and worth of all human personality” and to live up to the ideal that “all men are created equal.”

King clarifies that equality does not mean that every musician is a Mozart or every philosopher an Aristotle, but that all men are “equal in intrinsic worth.” He points to the Biblical concept of imago dei. He states, “[T]are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. He ends his sermon with these powerful words,

We have a dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream.

I still have a dream this morning that truth will reign supreme and all of God’s children will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. And when this day comes the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Read the full sermon here.

 

15. Ronald Reagan, “Address to the Nation on Independence Day” July 4, 1986

Statue of Ronald Reagan.Ronald Reagan gave this speech at the climax of a celebration in New York City to honor the newly renovated Statue of Liberty. Reagan gave the speech from the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy in New York Harbor

In this speech Reagan recalls the moment of the signing of the Declaration,

Fifty-six men came forward to sign the parchment. It was noted at the time that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors. And that was more than rhetoric; each of those men knew the penalty for high treason to the Crown. ``We must all hang together,'' Benjamin Franklin said, ``or, assuredly, we will all hang separately.'' And John Hancock, it is said, wrote his signature in large script so King George could see it without his spectacles. They were brave. They stayed brave through all the bloodshed of the coming years. Their courage created a nation built on a universal claim to human dignity, on the proposition that every man, woman, and child had a right to a future of freedom.

Reagan also talked about the beautiful friendship between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. He noted how they died on the same day, July 4th, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was their first gift to us, Reagan said.

My fellow Americans, it falls to us to keep faith with them and all the great Americans of our past. Believe me, if there's one impression I carry with me after the privilege of holding for 5 ½ years the office held by Adams and Jefferson and Lincoln, it is this: that the things that unite us -- America's past of which we're so proud, our hopes and aspirations for the future of the world and this much-loved country -- these things far outweigh what little divides us. And so tonight we reaffirm that Jew and gentile, we are one nation under God; that black and white, we are one nation indivisible; that Republican and Democrat, we are all Americans. Tonight, with heart and hand, through whatever trial and travail, we pledge ourselves to each other and to the cause of human freedom, the cause that has given light to this land and hope to the world.

You can watch the speech here or read it here.

About Hillsdale in D.C.

Hillsdale in D.C. is an extension of the teaching mission of Hillsdale College to Washington, D.C. Its purpose is to teach the Constitution and the principles that give it meaning. Through the study of original source documents from American history—and of older books that formed the education of America’s founders—it seeks to inspire students, teachers, citizens, and policymakers to return the America’s principles to their central place in the political life of the nation.

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Hillsdale College is an independent liberal arts college located in southern Michigan. Founded in 1844, the College has built a national reputation through its classical liberal arts core curriculum and its principled refusal to accept federal or state taxpayer subsidies, even indirectly in the form of student grants or loans. It also conducts an outreach effort promoting civil and religious liberty, including a free monthly speech digest, Imprimis, with a circulation of more than 4.5 million. For more information, visit hillsdale.edu.