Remarks by John Hoover, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America
On the Occasion of the 238th Anniversary of the American Declaration of Independence
Asmara, Eritrea, July 3, 2014
- Ministers and officials of the Government of the State of Eritrea;
- Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
- Fellow Americans;
- U.S. Embassy colleagues;
- Ladies and gentlemen:
Good afternoon and welcome to the U.S. Embassy on the eve of the 238thanniversary of the American Declaration of Independence!
I want to thank all of you for coming to our national day event today.
But I need to first apologize. As your invitations indicate, your principal host today was meant to be our incoming, permanent Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. Lou Mazel.
Unfortunately, because of a glitch we will conveniently blame on our travel agent in Washington, he was unable to arrive yesterday as planned.
He will be arriving next week, however.
I do hope you will give offer Lou Mazel the same warm welcome and friendship that so many of you here today gave me when I arrived as the temporary Chargé in mid-April. I thank you all now, because I know you will.
I also want to thank those parts of the Eritrean Government, including especially the Police and the Foreign Ministry, for their invaluable support for the U.S. Embassy here, both on an ongoing basis and in helping to organize today’s event.
And as I get ready to depart Asmara, I want to thank the staff of our Embassy – both American and Eritrean colleagues, every one of you – for the very good and important work you do every day under difficult circumstances, and for the great job you have all done in organizing today’s big event.
Tomorrow is the 238th anniversary of the day in 1776 when a group of American colonists gathered in Philadelphia and declared the independence of the 13 colonies, and the formation of a new nation, the United States of America.
In the Preamble of that Declaration, they said “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.”
The Preamble goes on to say, in so many words, that the people have the right to change any government that becomes destructive of these rights in order to institute a new one that will foster and protect them.
That, in essence, is the meaning of our Declaration of Independence – it declares a new nation whose government should respect and protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. And it also calls for democratic governance — the right of the people to change their government in the pursuit of these rights and freedoms.
But on that hot day in July, 1776, the Declaration was just that, a declaration – words on a piece of paper, with little immediate, practical effect.
It would be another five years before the American colonists, rebels in the eyes of the world at the time, achieved the military victory that made independence a practical reality, at considerable cost in American blood, sweat and tears.
And it would another 13 years before the people of the United States adopted the U.S. Constitution as a means of organizing a government capable of supporting and safeguarding those “certain unalienable Rights.”
Our new Constitution, however, still did not enumerate the specific rights of the people.
So it was another two years, or 15 years after the Declaration, that the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. Among others, the Bill of Rights proclaimed that the new U.S. Government must ensure its citizens:
- Freedom of religion;
- Freedom of speech;
- Freedom of the press;
- Freedom of assembly, and;
- The freedom not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
It would be 36 years after we fought and won our independence that we had to fight another war with our previous colonial master – a war in which Washington, DC was occupied and much of the city set on fire and burned by our foes.
And it would be another 89 years – more than three generations of Americans since the Declaration in 1776 – before the end of a horrifically bloody civil war, a struggle that nearly destroyed the United States, but which eliminated the evil of human slavery.
The point of this U.S. history lesson is that independence, and the building of a nation that lives up to its ideals, are not a one-time event. They are an unending process, a never-ending struggle.
Building a nation that is true to its own principles and values is a process that at times requires vigilance; at times patience, tolerance, and compromise. And at times, it requires immense struggle and sacrifice, as our own War for Independence and Civil War remind Americans.
And let’s not forget: sometimes nation-building also means, almost by necessity, making mistakes and having failures. We in the U.S. have made mistakes, at home and abroad. And we have failed at different times in our history, at times miserably, to uphold the very ideals and values that define us as a nation and a people.
But with each mistake, with each failure, and also with each sacrifice and success, we hope we get closer to fulfilling and making a practical reality those original rights and values found in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights.
I would argue that it is precisely those political ideals first captured in our Declaration of Independence – the promotion and protection of individual rights and freedoms, and democratic governance – that have made American success possible.
Our experience is unique; it is not something that can or should be emulated or replicated by other countries.
But the underlying ideals articulated in our founding documents like the Declaration of Independence are not unique.
We believe they are universal, and much of the rest of the world agrees.
The vision and specific rights enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are echoed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the member states of the United Nations in 1948, and in numerous other UN covenants since then.
And I believe the record around the world shows that those nations that strive to promote and protect individual rights, and the right of their people to peacefully and democratically change their governments, have done much better over the course of recent history in consistently generating peace and prosperity, within their own societies and in relations with their neighbors.
In short, they have been more successful in pursuing the happiness of their peoples.
With that, I want to thank all of you again for coming today.
And I would ask everyone to please raise your glasses in a toast, in both English and in very bad Tigrinya:
Wishing peace and prosperity to Eritrea: Ni-Ertra Selamn Biltsignan Imne!
And wishing Eritrea a bountiful rainy season! Tilul Kiramat!
Thank you all again and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.