Innsbruck, December 31, 1976
Reflections on the Conclusion of the Bicentennial Year
The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, was an act of far-reaching historical significance. The 13 British colonies in North America, who had already at the signing of the Declaration of Independence named themselves the “thirteen united States of America,” achieved independence in 1783. In the following years they united into a federal state named the United States of America. With the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, which is the foundation of American democracy, the United States was nearly 150 years ahead of Europe in establishing a democratic government. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed the unalienable rights of all human beings to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” This guiding principle is in accordance with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments or articles added to the American Constitution in 1791. These articles warrant the protection of the individual from infringement by the government, especially in regard to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. They have become the model for basic constitutional rights of civil liberties and have awakened the conscience for the protection of human rights, which finally led to the declaration of universal human rights by the United Nations in 1948. The surprising thing about the Bicentennial was that the whole world spontaneously participated in this American birthday celebration.