"These Fourth of July gatherings I suppose have their uses." Their uses include some new ones 122 years after Abraham Lincoln chose these dry words to lead a fervent Saturday night crowd in Chicago back to "that old Declaration of Independence."
There is still the need he saw to remind Americans of their inescapable moral bond with the "iron men" who fought for their liberty in the past.
But there is also the need to see what is happening to independence in a changed universe, just as Lincoln looked beyond his time and place -- in his words, "as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world."
Applause greeted that line of the prepresidential Lincoln, according to the text of the speech from which we have obtained a guest column for today's Opinion and Commentary pages. And so should it today, as the record of political independence lengthens among the world's nations and the love of freedom refuses to be quenched in the hearts of gallant individuals still under oppression's boot.
Chattel slavery does hang on in some parts of the planet even this long after it was a Fourth of July target for Lincoln. But no one seriously defends it anymore -- or would be taken seriously if he did.
Grievous discrimination -- racial, religious, economic -- remains as a latter-day counterpart to slavery. Repression of groups within countries remains as internal colonization while the old external empire-building fades or , here and there, tries to rise again.
These are evident points where humanity can draw on that moral relationship traced by Lincoln to the principle of "all men are created equal" enshrined in the Declaration of Independence -- though not, of course, confined to this source.
Yet the unfinished business of independence looms even larger than this as the Fourth of July arrives once more. What uses of the occasion for the 1980s can be added to those Lincoln offered in 1858?
* New concepts of national independence. Countries that are politically independent want to be independent in other ways. The cry for independence often comes to mean energy independence, liberty from the oil tyrants. Or economic independence, enough aid to developing countries to give them an actual rather than theoretical equal opportunity for sharing in the world's economic advance.
* New concepts of individual independence. From Helsinki to Moscow to Pretoria to Miami, the affirmations of or strivings for justice and human rights are familiar and not to be forgotten on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But other declarations of individual independence are needed, liberty from other kinds of slavery. To be "iron men" of the sort to fight for freedom in the future, individuals need to declare independence from all the tempting tyrannies of modern times:
Independence from the glossy materialism that can rule a life like any dictator. Independence from drugs enthroned through legal and illegal channels. Independence from cults and "ologies" that intrude on the freedom of the mind. Independence from habits of sloth and waste that become ever more antisocial as the need for everyone's productive and efficient attitudes becomes greater in a crowded world community.
In the latter vein, sometimes interdependence is touted as the successor to independence. And there is every reason for each nation and individual to realize what they can contribute to others and what others can contribute to them.
But even here there is a way of looking at things to enhance independence. It is to look at interdependence more as interrelationship, reserving a sense of dependence for its highest meaning, dependence on God. With all dependent on this single ultimate source of every good, each can pursue independence without infringing on anyone else's. And one can take today's urgently necessary steps to enhance the independence of others without lessening one's own.