By Keli’i Akina
July Fourth is just around the corner, and once again I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in a country whose principles are so clearly stated in its founding document.
I’m not talking about the U.S. Constitution, which also is a wonderful achievement, but rather the Declaration of Independence, which set our nation on its course to become the leading light for freedom throughout the world.
Written by Thomas Jefferson, who later would become America’s third president, it boldly states:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
It was a revolutionary document, declaring that the 13 colonies no longer wanted to be part of Great Britain. And the brave men who signed it — America’s Founding Fathers — knew they were putting their lives, fortunes and “sacred Honor” at risk for doing so.
Dick Rowland, founder of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, loved the Declaration of Independence. He carried small copies of it and the U.S. Constitution to distribute to people he would meet. He constantly referred to it in conversation and speeches. It was his way of saying that America has been on the right path since its beginning, and he wanted to keep it that way.
But Dick also recognized that America is not perfect, and never has been. Slavery, unequal treatment of women, blue laws, censorship, cronyism, corruption, the military draft, excessive taxation, illegal foreign wars — the list goes on.
But thanks to the guiding principles of the Declaration of Independence, buttressed by the U.S. Constitution, the most egregious of those violations have been struck down, and the rest are always on their heels.
That’s why Dick founded the Institute, to help eliminate these remaining violations of our nation’s principles and keep America on the path to freedom for all.
His focus, of course, was how to apply those principles to Hawaii, to help lower its cost of living, expand opportunities and make the islands a place where we all can thrive and prosper.
To that point, some of the grievances against Britain’s King George sound like they might have been about modern Hawaii. The one that stands out for me is: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”
However, another statement that stands out for me is when Jefferson says, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
And so it is today. Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes. But they do require our attention when, as Jefferson also said, “a long train of abuses and usurpations … evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism.
In other words, to continue on our path to freedom, we need to always remember the guiding principles of the Declaration of Independence — that we all are “created equal” and endowed with “certain unalienable Rights,” among which are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And we should be grateful that we live in a country where such principles are there to guide us in the first place.
Happy Fourth of July!
Keli‘i Akina is president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.