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Independence Day 2008

July 04, 2008

Independence Day, July 4, is traditionally marked with parades, family get-togethers and public concerts, including the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's 23rd annual Salute to Independence at Antietam National Battlefield, beginning this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Whatever shape your celebration takes, we urge you to spend at least a small part of it reflecting on the origins of this holiday, and what all Americans owe to those who decided that this collection of colonies ought to be a country more than 200 years ago.

By itself, that decision wasn't remarkable. In the past 50 years, we've seen a number of former colonies in Africa and satellites of the Soviet Union change their form of government. The American experience is unique because the founders had the wisdom to write a Constitution that is still relevant two centuries later.

Think of all that it guarantees: The right to free expression and to arm oneself against the possibility of a tyrannical state.

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Those are are just two of the rights that many Americans take for granted, while even today residents of foreign countries are dragged away, never to be seen again, just for owning a weapon or questioning the wisdom of their countries' leaders.

The Constitution says Americans can't be forced to testify against themselves in court, and cannot have their property seized without fair compensation. It also says they have a right to a speedy trial, and by jury, in most civil and criminal cases.

As for the national government, it was designed to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful or making secret alliances with other countries.

To preserve these rights, the first American patriots risked being hanged as traitors. Later, others fought to preserve the union during the Civil War. And, when global peace was threatened, Americans participated in two world wars and in a series of smaller conflicts stretching through time from Korea to Kuwait.

They fought, giving up years and sometimes their lives, to preserve the real American dream. During your Saturday celebration, take a moment to reflect on those who, because of their sacrifice, made it possible for you to enjoy it.

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