Our chief guest the Honorable Minister of Construction and Engineering Services, other distinguished Sri Lankan dignitaries, Excellencies and other members of the diplomatic corps, fellow Americans, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate America’s birthday.
On this day each year, Americans gather with family and friends to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. July 4 is always a happy day for us. It is an opportunity to get together with family and friends, attend a parade on Main Street, perhaps play a little baseball, fire up the barbeque for some hamburgers and hot dogs, and then go watch fireworks at a local park.
But it is also a time for reflection, to remember the challenges our forefathers faced and to recognize their courage and wisdom. On this day 231 years ago, 56 men gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence drafted by a future President, Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration eloquently set forth their grievances against the British Crown. But such grievances had been enumerated before.
What distinguished this declaration from all others was the bold and final decision it took to assert the independence of 13 free states. As President John Kennedy later put it, “That Declaration unleashed not merely a revolution against the British, but a revolution in human affairs. Its authors were highly conscious of its worldwide implications. And George Washington declared that liberty and self-government everywhere were staked on the experiment entrusted to the American people.”
On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1976 President Gerald Ford traveled to Philadelphia and reflected on the significance of the Declaration. He told his audience that “The signers of the Declaration boldly reversed the age-old political theory that kings derive their power from God and asserted instead that both powers and inalienable rights belong to the people. Furthermore they declared that governments are instituted among men to secure their rights and to secure their purposes, and governments continue only so long as they have the consent of the governed.”
In the final words of the Declaration the signatories pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Those were not empty words. 5 were later taken prisoner, 12 had their homes sacked, 2 lost their sons and 9 died in the revolutionary war that followed.
Eleven years later in 1787 in that same hall in Philadelphia, another group of representatives of the people and the States met to form a more perfect union, a permanent legal mechanism that would translate the ideals of Jefferson’s declaration into effective self-government. That constitution enshrined the principles of freedom, justice, liberty and equality. It also marked the beginning of what is now hailed as the world’s oldest participatory democracy.
America’s Constitution is a living document constantly refreshed to reflect the needs and will of the people. But throughout America’s history, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty and dignity among peoples and among nations.
Those principles underpin the more than fifty years of friendship between the United States and Sri Lanka. America was proud to be a partner in helping Sri Lanka during its early years with more than a billion and a half dollars in development assistance. Our young Peace Corps volunteers helped to teach English and other skills that your young nation needed.
Today America is Sri Lanka’s largest export market and world class American businesses such as Citibank, Chevron and AES are investing here to reinforce your dynamic private sector as the engine of growth.
As a member of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donor Conference the United States is a committed partner in Sri Lanka’s quest to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict that has divided your beautiful country for so many years.
As America’s forefathers knew, this will require bold leadership, a determination to set aside narrow party, regional and ethnic considerations so that you also can build a great, united and prosperous nation. In America you will continue to find a strong friend and partner.
Let me conclude with a quote from the Declaration of Independence that is as relevant today as it was 231 years ago.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Thank you all for honoring us today with your presence. I hope you enjoy the party!
[US Embassy News, Colombo, Sri Lanka]