The signers of the Declaration of Independence felt that "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" required them to explain why 13 thinly populated states clinging to the Atlantic coast should declare themselves independent of the world's richest, most powerful empire.
And they did, in words every American should know: "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."
These were radical ideas. In the monarchies of Europe and the empires of the East, man was patently not created equal -- there were serfs and nobles. Happiness was a fortuitous accident in the midst of arduous daily life.
The lofty ideals of American independence are in the first two paragraphs of the declaration, which was formally adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. The next 27 paragraphs listed the colonists' long-smoldering grievances. The British Parliament reacted with punitive laws, the Americans rebelled and the Revolution dragged on until 1783.
"Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" won out, and we celebrate that victory of ideals every July 4. Happy Independence Day. Go celebrate. The Founding Fathers all but ordered you to.
Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.