After the formal declaration of American independence in July of 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that the occasion should be “solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forevermore.” As families gather for cookouts and fireworks this Independence Day, they are doing just as Mr. Adams intended.

These celebrations, now 243 years old, bring our nation together and remind us of the importance of what happened that summer in Philadelphia. They also give Americans a chance to rededicate ourselves to the ideals proven to be the best method for a free people to govern themselves.

Conceived in liberty

It was common in the 18th century for nations to come and go. What made America different was that our new nation was founded on new principles. Every American is taught these values in school: all of us are created equal, we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and, to secure these rights, governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Our country has not always lived up to that vision, but the Declaration has always inspired Americans from all walks of life. The anti-slavery cause, women’s suffrage, and nearly every civil rights victory before and after have drawn on our founding ideals as we become a more perfect union. By still holding on to the self-evident truths of the Declaration, the United States can continue to make good on the text’s promise and overcome future challenges.

Providing for the common defense

When the 56 signers of the Declaration came together, they were supported by an army in the field under the command of General George Washington. That army secured the rights articulated by the Founders, and our military today continues to guarantee our freedom and independence.

Each year, Congress approves the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets funding levels and policy priorities for every branch of the armed forces. The Senate-passed version of this year’s NDAA follows the Trump Administration’s National Defense Strategy, a blueprint to rebuild our military and provide the Department of Defense with an increased budget of $750 billion dollars. As our military recovers from Obama-era sequestration cuts and prepares for new challenges from China, Iran, and Russia, this increased sum is vital.

The NDAA process is one of the most important and bipartisan efforts in Washington. That is because legislators from both sides of the aisle recognize that the national defense is our first priority. I am working to make sure that the final version of this year’s NDAA includes support for an amphibious transport dock and a new amphibious assault ship – both are made in Mississippi and essential as our fleet grows to 355 ships. I also am advocating for provisions that would expand JROTC programs, instilling a sense of service in today’s students and future leaders. In addition, the Senate bill would guarantee our men and women in uniform the health benefits they have earned and the 3.1% pay raise they deserve.

The Founding Fathers risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor – putting their faith in an ill-equipped army pitted against the largest empire in history. John Adams would be pleased to know Americans continue to celebrate the Founding all these years later, and also, that our nation and ideals are defended by the strongest military in the world.

ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.

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