Two-hundred forty-six years ago, 13 colonies boldly declared their independence. They did so in opposition to the British empire, which at the time possessed the greatest military power on Earth. The reasons for this declaration were not spurious, and our Founders did not take the consequences of their decision lightly. Benjamin Franklin said as the Declaration of Independence was signed that “we must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” Such were the stakes of this monumental moment in history.
Our forebears were willing to risk everything for a dream. A dream of freedom and of opportunity. A dream that says no matter where you come from, no matter what your background is, if you work hard and live honestly and justly, you can succeed. This is the American Dream.
Today this dream may seem less attainable. Somewhat because of real problems: skyrocketing gas prices and runaway inflation. But somewhat, too, because of false narratives: America is racist, or America is in decline or government dependency is better than self-reliance.
Yes, things are tough today. Empty food shelves are appearing in grocery stores for the first time in decades. The ever-increasing price for families to put food on their tables and gas in their cars is an acute challenge faced by all Americans, in every corner of our republic. Indeed, these problems are hitting our working and middle-class families harder than anyone — this is likely the most expensive Fourth of July cookout any family in America has experienced in their lifetime. For many, the American Dream now may seem to have lost its luster.
In times of triumph and trial, Americans have always and will always find ways to come together. Not divided by race or gender or class or region; but as a single, indivisible people devoted to the common good of this nation we love. We can do this today by remembering what makes America exceptional and dedicate ourselves, once more, to safeguarding the enduring principles upon which it was founded. If we can do this, we will soon find the American Dream not only restored but full of greater promise than ever before.
When I think of the American Dream, I think of my Grandma Grace and Grandpa Earl. They married each other at 6:30 in the morning because Earl didn’t want to be late for work. Grandma Grace couldn’t afford to be late, either — she served as PTA president four times, led multiple Girl Scout troops, was a precinct committeewoman and made most of the clothes worn by their 10 children. Each was dedicated to serving the community they lived in, and to providing for the family they had built together. They upheld this commitment even in the harshest times in our nation’s history. Such are the kinds of people upon which the country we have inherited was built: people defined by their ethic of hard work, self-sufficiency and, above all, an abiding love for those they held dear.
This is the American Dream. It’s not something handed to us, as a gift, by a government. It is something we alone can create and realize, and we can only do so in a nation that safeguards the God-given freedoms with which our Creator has blessed us.
Let us not forget the trials we have overcome. From two world wars, to devastating terrorist attacks, to a global pandemic. Through it all, Americans prevailed. We won those wars. We rose from the ashes of 9/11. During the dark days of COVID, churches stayed open to give hope to the isolated, sick and poor in spirit, families homeschooled their children when schools turned them away, and many businesses fought their way back from the brink of bankruptcy. The American people are indeed exceptional, and this becomes most evident when we are tested.
America needs a new message. Not one of defeat and decline, but one of vital optimism, grounded in the timeless, sacred principles of our nation: that we are all created equal, that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These words, penned by Thomas Jefferson before he would serve as America’s first secretary of state, are alive in the hearts of every American today, despite the challenges before us. They abided in me as I was sworn in as America’s 70th secretary of state and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and before when I served in Congress and the Army.
On July 4, 1863, the Union Army stood triumphant at Gettysburg, but at a great and bloody cost. At no time in history has our nation been so divided, or our future so uncertain. President Abraham Lincoln came to that great battlefield and called upon his countrymen to dedicate themselves so that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
This exhortation echoes down generations, and America will answer it today, just as we always have. May God bless you, your families, and the United States of America on our Independence Day.
Mike Pompeo served as secretary of state (2018-2021) and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (2017-2018).