The United States declared independence from England on July 4, 1776, more than 11 years before we ratified our Constitution, on September 17, 1787. And the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) was not ratified until December 15, 1791.

The way the Constitution got ratified was by the framers agreeing on a lowest common denominator as a starting place for establishing a country that could eventually become the land of the free. Instead of being fully egalitarian (providing equal rights for all humans), the original Constitution and the Bill of Rights applied to white male property owners. That’s because only they were considered full citizens with the right to vote and participate in the political process.

Only over time did citizens beyond white male property owners receive full legal protection by the Bill of Rights. It wasn’t until 1868 that full citizenship was granted to all who were born in the United States or had become naturalized citizens (including former slaves). In 1870 all men received the right to vote and in 1920 all women received the right to vote. In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act granted citizenship to all Native Americans. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished discriminatory national origins quotas.

This should have finally ensured that the full legal rights of all men and women were protected under the Bill of Rights. However, only over the remainder of the 20th century, were these rights fully extended to marginalized groups such as Native Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals. It was not until 2015 that the U.S. Supreme Court determined that due process and equal protection under the law applied to same-sex couples.

This struggle is not unique to the United States. The United States has been a leader in advocating for these values around the world. Many countries are still striving to ensure that all people are treated equally under the law.

The bottom line is that the lofty vision that birthed the United States continues to be a work-in-progress in the application of its vision. May we therefore envision United States Independence Day as a celebration of the ongoing journey toward full embodiment of the lofty ideals that are enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution. And not only for all Americans, but also for all humans in all countries.