AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
The Fourth of July is not just a celebration of Independence in the United States, but a reminder of the great promise of America to people around the globe. While this lesson is often dismissed or denied in many classrooms today, it is a central element of America’s unique identity in world history.
Two central truths that Thomas Jefferson outlined in the Declaration of Independence – that everyone has certain unalienable, God-given rights, and that legitimate political power is derived from the people – have inspired hearts and minds ever since Thomas Jefferson first penned them nearly 250 years ago.
This Fourth of July, it is worth remembering one story from Soviet Russia in 1953 that is illustrative of the transformational power of the American experiment.
Following World War II, the Soviet regime sentenced tens of thousands of political prisoners to forced labor in gulags throughout Siberia. One of the largest gulags was in Vorkuta, the fourth-largest city north of the Arctic Circle. There, laborers toiled in horrid conditions in coal mines.
One of the prisoners at Vorkuta was a Catholic priest who had been held in a German concentration camp during World War II. Upon his liberation by American soldiers, the priest received a page from a Bible printed for U.S. troops overseas which also contained copies of America’s founding documents.
Miraculously, the priest managed to smuggle the page into the labor camp. Every evening, he would pray for the American people, laying his hand on the forbidden document deep in his coat pocket next to his heart. It served as a powerful source of hope to him and the other prisoners at Vorkuta.
On July 4, 1953, the priest prayed with other Christians and Jews, singing the Latin Christian hymn Te Deum. Not even the guards disturbed them, with one even encouraging the priest. “Pray on! It seems there is still someone above who hears your prayers,” he said. The priest said he had never experienced such a unity of mind and spirit of people of different denominations and nationalities, all of them praising God on the occasion of American independence.
Two weeks later, more than 18,000 inmates initiated a strike that led to the Vorkuta Uprising – one of the first major signs of resistance to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As the priest recalled, the yearning for freedom reflected in the Declaration of Independence was that same spirit which drove the resistance to Soviet domination in Vorkuta and throughout the Soviet Union.
Today, however, there is an ongoing effort to erase and rewrite this legacy of the American founding. Alternative histories like Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project seek to reframe American history as a story of systemic racism.
The 1619 Project’s version of history or something like it has now become popular in many American classrooms. Students are now taught that America was founded to preserve slavery and reflect the interests of a wealthy, white ruling class.
Those who wish to preserve and pass on the truth about American history – and what July 4, 1776, represents – are now engaged in a struggle that will determine whether future oppressed individuals like the priest in Vorkuta will look to the United States as a symbol of freedom and hope, or one of oppression.
Thankfully, the faction fighting to preserve a historically accurate account of American history has some powerful voices as well. Following the release of the 1619 Project, Dr. Mary Grabar, a historian and author, released her own 256-page takedown of the Hannah-Jones work, entitled Debunking the 1619 Project. Grabar writes flatly that the 1619 Project is a “big lie.”
One by one, Grabar lays bare how the 1619 Project takes quotes out of context and intentionally ignores key facts about the founding that provide nuance to the American story.
For instance, while Hannah-Jones dismisses Thomas Jefferson as nothing more than a racist slaveowner, Grabar reminds readers that the story is more complex. After all, it was Jefferson who, as president, signed a law banning the import of more slaves, as well as legislation excluding slaves from the western territories.
Former President Donald Trump also brought this issue to the fore during his presidency and offered a resounding defense of the greatness of American history and the legacy of July 4, 1776. During remarks at Mt. Rushmore on July 3, 2020, Trump called Independence Day “the most important day in the history of nations.”
“We will state the truth in full, without apology: We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth,” Trump continued. “My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country.”
In September 2020, President Trump also held the very first “White House Conference on American History” in direct response to the pernicious lies the radical left was spreading about the founding story of America. There, scholars like Dr. Jordan Adams of Hillsdale College explained in great detail how a nation built around the ideals of freedom and equality “becoming the freest and most prosperous nation ever to have existed, is no accident and is never more than a single generation of corrupted education away from extinction.”
Trump also created the “1776 Commission” with the express purpose of “[enabling] a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.”
The Commission released its final report in January 2021, which affirmed “how the American people have ever pursued freedom and justice, which are the political conditions for living well.” Far from a nation founded on racism and slavery, the report says, the United States was founded on “self- sacrifice, courage, and nobility.”
This Fourth of July, all Americans – and every freedom-loving people – should take heart in the magnificent uniqueness of the United States. May she continue to carry forth the light of freedom and liberty for the world!
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.