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7/3/04 - INDEPENDENCE DAY - 2004-07-07

July 4th, is Independence Day in the United States. On July 4th, 1776, fifty-six representatives of the thirteen British colonies of North America declared that “by the authority of the people” they were establishing a new nation. It would take another six years of war with the world's then foremost military power, Britain, before American independence was won.

In 1782, the United States of America was far from united. Its government was a loose confederation with a weak central government. Real power lay with the state governments. The states differed widely in religious practice, political opinion, and economic interests. States erected tariff and trade barriers against each other. Currency was inflated and crippling tax burdens were imposed. Economic chaos led to civil unrest.

Conflicts arose between the states over boundaries. The national government lacked military forces to deal with security threats. Americans began to look for ways to address these problems. It took them another seven years to do so.

The answer was a new constitution that would establish a national government strong enough to deal with the country's needs, while reserving certain powers to the states. But Americans were divided about the form the new government should take. Small states wanted equal representation with large states in Congress. Citizens feared that a strong national government would suppress individual liberties.

The issues were resolved only after years of debate and compromise. The new constitution was ratified only after ten amendments were added guaranteeing fundamental rights, including freedom of religion, speech, and press, the right to trial by jury, and protection against human rights abuses.

Today, the people of Iraq stand at a crossroads similar to that which Americans and other free peoples have faced. Freed of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis have an opportunity to unite against intolerance and extremism and build a democratic nation. President George W. Bush says Iraqis already have what they need most -- freedom:

“We believe that freedom has the power to defeat poverty and hopelessness and ignorance. We believe the advance of freedom makes the world safer for all nations."

“When free nations work together,” says Mr. Bush, “freedom will always prevail.”