1776 Commission

The-Presidents-Advisory-1776-Commission-Final-Report.pdf (archives.gov)


In the course of human events there have always been
those who deny or reject human freedom, but
Americans will never falter in defending the
fundamental truths of human liberty proclaimed on July
4, 1776. We will—we must—always hold these truths.
The declared purpose of the President’s Advisory 1776
Commission is to “enable 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.” This requires a restoration of American
education, which can only be grounded on a history of
those principles that is “accurate, honest, unifying,
inspiring, and ennobling.” And a rediscovery of our
shared identity rooted in our founding principles is the
path to a renewed American unity and a confident
American future.
The Commission’s first responsibility is to produce a
report summarizing the principles of the American
founding and how those principles have shaped our
country. That can only be done by truthfully
recounting the aspirations and actions of the men and
women who sought to build America as a shining “city
on a hill”—an exemplary nation, one that protects the
safety and promotes the happiness of its people, as an
example to be admired and emulated by nations of the
world that wish to steer their government toward
greater liberty and justice. The record of our founders’
striving and the nation they built is our shared
inheritance and remains a beacon, as Abraham Lincoln
said, “not for one people or one time, but for all people
for all time.”
Today, however, Americans are deeply divided about
the meaning of their country, its history, and how it
should be governed. This division is severe enough to
call to mind the disagreements between the colonists
and King George, and those between the Confederate
and Union forces in the Civil War. They amount to a
dispute over not only the history of our country but also
its present purpose and future direction.
The facts of our founding are not partisan. They are a
matter of history. Controversies about the meaning of
the founding can begin to be resolved by looking at the
facts of our nation’s founding. Properly understood,
these facts address the concerns and aspirations of
Americans of all social classes, income levels, races and
religions, regions and walks of life. As well, these facts
provide necessary—and wise—cautions against
unrealistic hopes and checks against pressing partisan
claims or utopian agendas too hard or too far.
The principles of the American founding can be learned
by studying the abundant documents contained in the
record. Read fully and carefully, they show how the
American people have ever pursued freedom and
justice, which are the political conditions for living
well. To learn this history is to become a better person,
a better citizen, and a better partner in the American
experiment of self-government.
Comprising actions by imperfect human beings, the
American story has its share of missteps, errors,
contradictions, and wrongs. These wrongs have always
met resistance from the clear principles of the nation,
and therefore our history is far more one of self
sacrifice, courage, and nobility. America’s principles
are named at the outset to be both universal—applying
to everyone—and eternal: existing for all time. The
remarkable American story unfolds under and because
of these great principles.
Of course, neither America nor any other nation has
perfectly lived up to the universal truths of equality,
liberty, justice, and government by consent. But no
nation before America ever
dared state those truths as the
formal basis for its politics, and
none has strived harder, or done
more, to achieve them.
Lincoln aptly described the
American government’s
fundamental principles as “a
standard maxim for free
society,” which should be
“familiar to all, and revered by
all; constantly looked to,
constantly labored for, and even
though never perfectly attained,
constantly approximated.” But
the very attempt to attain
them—every attempt to attain
them—would, Lincoln
continued, constantly spread and
deepen the influence of these
principles and augment “the happiness and value of life
to all people of all colors everywhere.” The story of
America is the story of this ennobling struggle.
The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission presents
this first report with the intention of cultivating a better
education among Americans in the principles and
history of our nation and in the hope that a rediscovery
of those principles and the forms of constitutional
government will lead to a more perfect Union.

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