Radio Column

Asa Arkansas's Governor

Thirty-five Words


Column Transcript

Thirty-five words — that’s all it took to define America. Thomas Jefferson wrote them 239 years ago as introduction to our Declaration of Independence from the King’s England. This weekend, we celebrate that historic leap of faith framed by those 35 words. We celebrate the birth of these United States of America.

These days, we celebrate our Independence Day with fireworks, barbecues, pool parties, and parades. We celebrate all that makes this nation great. But our celebration also should be a time for reflection — reflection on how our nation was born and how it has grown.

Whenever we look back on American history, thirty-five words immediately come to mind: “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.” These words represent both the foundation of who we were and what we needed to become.

But at the time, those thirty-five words were largely ignored.

When Jefferson presented the Declaration for approval, his fellow delegates in the Continental Congress were indifferent. Few of them – if any – considered Jefferson’s flowery opening lines worthy of history’s kind judgment.

As historian Joseph Ellis wrote, these thirty-five words were “apparently regarded by all the delegates at the time as a mere rhetorical flourish designed to introduce the more serious business.”

Indeed, the delegates cared mostly about the long middle section of the Declaration – the serious business of grievances against King George. This section sparked two days of debate and eighty-five revisions. A writer through and through, Jefferson went to his grave thinking his colleagues had “mangled” his original draft.

 At the time, under the pressures of unprecedented revolution and life-or-death consequences, the delegates clearly did not understand the significance of Jefferson’s introduction.

But today, we do.

America is more than a great nation. It’s an idea – and a revolutionary one at that — that all people are created equal; that all people should live free from oppression; that all people have the right to pursue a better life.

This is the American Dream: with hard work, anything is possible. The Dream was launched 239 years ago, and it remains a very American concept – that we the people shape our destiny.

Here in Arkansas, the Dream is alive. With hard work and dedication, there’s nothing you cannot achieve right here in Arkansas. We have it all. But we’re also a work in progress, always looking to improve. That, too, is the meaning and beauty of America.

This weekend, take a moment to give thanks for this nation and all the good it stands for. Remember the foresight of our Founding Fathers. We are all blessed to be Americans. To live in a nation, and a state, where the people rule — and anything is possible.