Like approximately everyone else, the Declaration of Independence is one of my favorite statements of what it is to be an American. It has become fashionable over time to allow the flaws of our country to dominate and to eclipse its virtues. But, call me naive if you wish, I still believe that this American experiment has built that city on a hill, and it is up to all of us to give it maintenance.
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
The Founders had the definition of citizen wrong, but they had the principle right. In society we are co-equals; no one of us has any moral entitlement greater or lesser than any other. Liberty is that principle which, very generally speaking, demands of us that we respect the moral agency of our fellow beings. Government is legitimate only when it is consensual and when its aims are to protect the liberties of the citizens who have brought it into being.
This is a hard standard to live up to, and surely our country has stumbled or fallen at many points. But, despite all of our challenges, we remain a place in which people are free to live according to their conscience, to speak their minds, and to enjoy all the other liberties that humans throughout history (and in many countries today) could not enjoy. We are not a country based on bloodlines, but one based on the belief of people that they can come here and build a better life in peace.
And importantly, at least in principle, we are not a place of privilege. There is no one entitled to “rule” over us — we are a self-governed polity. It’s for each of us to remember that it’s through our own choices and actions that we continue to build and maintain our city on the hill that will remain an example of good government for generations to come.