As Americans celebrate Independence Day, The Words That Built America examines the documents written by the Founding Fathers that helped forge a nation.
In many of the great democracies across the world there have been defining many documents that have helped seal in core ideas and ideals. Many of these like Scotland’s 1320 Declaration of Arbroath inspired the Founding Fathers. The declaration was made when the small country declared itself independent and sent the Latin document to the pope in Rome.
The most famous part of it reads in English:
“…for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
Interestingly it takes it’s ideas from Roman writer Sallust, who was working back in 30BC, almost fourteen centuries before Arbroath and eighteen hundred years before the United States Declaration of Independence.
Ironically the famous English document the Magna Carta, was also an inspiration. It might have been created by wealthy nobles in an attempt to control the power of the king but it contained some ideas that are still key to most modern democracies.
Some key parts of this ancient document are still part of English law, such as:
“NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”
So as we celebrate Independence Day it is worth remembering that the road to democracy and freedom has been a long one, taken over thousands of years and for some in our society that struggle continues.
David McCullough narrates this fascinating documentary.
The Words That Built America airs at 7:00 PM on HBO.More: Independence Day