Friends in Liberty

Like a bible dusted off on the Fourth of July, the Declaration of Independence has provided years of sound bites and - as in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - profound echoes. This Independence Day we're skipping the document's lambasting of George III and moving right along to what it called "our British brethren" even as it lit into them, too. For brethren - and sistren - are what Britons and Americans were and are. They share the "native Justice and Magnanimity" that the Declaration attributes to Britons, and they hold each other "as we hold the rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends."

And how long the peace and friendship have lasted after such fierce military conflict! The thoroughness of reconciliation adds realism to hope for healing today's intractable divisions around the globe, from Northern Ireland to the Middle East to Korea.

Britain and America don't always walk in step, whether on global-warming gases (Britain is moving faster to limit them), handgun control (Britain's is tougher), or democratizing Hong Kong (the heirs of Thomas Jefferson might say colonial Britain could have acted faster even before Tiananmen Square).

But in other realms how far we've come since 19th-century British author Sydney Smith inquired, "Who reads an American book, or goes to an American play?" Why, at this very moment, "The Dilbert Principle" is on the bestseller lists of both countries. After Broadway's almost total immersion in British musicals, "Cats" (from poems by American T.S. Eliot transplanted to England) still runs on. And Britain is seeing "Guys and Dolls," "Lady in the Dark," and about as many other US musicals as are on Broadway.

But we haven't fully outgrown the reputation of being two countries divided by a common language. Imagine lifting your bonnet to check your oil or carrying your bicycle in your boot. You mean hood and trunk are English, too?

But seriously, Great Britain, "we proffer thee warm welcome," as the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, did in a poem addressed to you in the Boston Herald of almost a century ago. And we recognize that other themes can be drawn from the document of July 4, 1776. This is what historian Pauline Maier demonstrates in a brand-new book, "American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence" (excerpt Page 19). And she describes the Declaration itself as part of a political tradition of liberty unifying the British and American peoples. Both the Declaration of Independence and Britain's Magna Carta began as political documents but have become in a sense sacred texts, repeatedly interpreted and looked to for fundamental values.

Reason enough for fireworks, period - er, full stop.

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