Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

Back in the day when the kids were little, my best friend from college brought her family to visit every Fourth of July. This meant, among other things, that on the morning of the Fourth itself, the entire house was woken, bright and very, very early by her husband belting out, “When in the course of human events …”

A bit of a history buff, he would then go on to recite the rest of the Declaration of Independence in its entirety from memory, often without prompts. It was an impressive feat. Even more so since it was before the coffee had even been made.

The kids got big, their schedules got complicated, and it’s been a while now since we’ve all been together for the holiday. In honor of those happy years and for the nation that, while not perfect, I still love deeply, I take time out every year to reread the Declaration.

Have you read it lately? I recommend it. As a document, it’s actually really interesting.

Mostly, it sets out in plain language exactly why the colonies were unhappy with King George III. It delineates each particular injustice in order to establish a sense of legitimacy and justification for the act of rebellion they were announcing. It’s heady stuff.

Of course, the realities on the ground didn’t quite match up. Actual, factual history is rarely as grand, bold or noble as the stories we tell about it, or the ideals that fuel it.


In truth, the very same people who literally staked their lives on the concept that “all men are created equal” didn’t mean what we like to think they meant.

What did they mean? Well, to start with, they really did mean “men” as in the gender, not as in “mankind.” We ladyfolk were left out, even as we fought alongside in the coming war.

Also, not just any man, but white men specifically. Preferably with education and property holdings. Given that Jefferson owned slaves (as did many, many other Founding Fathers), it is a fair bet that he did not envision “rights and freedoms” in anything close to the way we do.

In fact, as noted by Melissa De Witte of Stanford University, “when the Continental Congress adopted the historic text drafted by Thomas Jefferson, they did not intend it to mean individual equality. Rather, what they declared was that American colonists, as a people, had the same rights to self-government as other nations.” So, not individual rights at all.

As with all things historical then, our challenge is to somehow look at the full truth of history, without omissions or glossing over the uncomfortable bits; while simultaneously gleaning whatever aspirational ideals there are for our collective betterment.

It’s kind of like looking for the gold nugget buried in the mound of sludge.


For myself, I am going back to the literal words in the opening of the Declaration. They are my favorite part.

I will be spending time ruminating on the concept that we are indeed all created equal, endowed with certain unalienable rights, “among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I will be reflecting on what those words truly mean in an era of book bans, drag bans and legislative attempts to curtail basic human freedoms.

I will be redoubling my commitment to stand for the nobler goals of this nation and to continue to work, not for some imagined greatness of a time gone by, but for the promise of the better future we first imagined we might have.

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