Thank you, Mayor [Barnell Albers] and thank you all for being here today.
It is great to be in Round Top, Texas.
Now, some people come here because they need the perfect antique lamp to finish out a decorating project, while others drive hours to taste one of Bud Royers' world-famous pies, but we are here today to celebrate the birthday of the greatest nation on earth.
There are a lot of things that we have come to associate with this holiday, like char-grilled meat, cold lemonade, and fireworks, but the essential, underlying purpose remains the same.
In farm communities, small towns and big cities all across Texas, people like you and me are gathering to celebrate the birthday of a nation and a philosophy of government that literally changed the world.
It's hard to imagine what circumstances were like for the 56 men who assembled in Philadelphia some 234 years ago today and prepared to place their very lives at risk in the cause of freedom.
That small group, composed of tradesman, farmers and, yes, a few lawyers, understood the consequences of signing that document.
Their signatures would invite the undivided attention of the British Empire onto their lives, their businesses, and their families.
However, the oppression that they and their countrymen endured at the hands of that occupying power could not stand unchecked, and they were willing to risk everything in the cause of freedom.
I believe there was something in their hearts that beat louder than their fears of retaliation, and that was the pulse of liberty that has been the heartbeat of our nation ever since.
By signing that Declaration of Independence, those brave men set in motion a chain of events that included great hardship, but yielded a new republic and unleashed unlimited opportunity.
In the intervening years, our ongoing experiment with that unpredictable system known as democracy has proven time and again that people do best when they are free to pursue their dreams without the oppressive hand of government on their backs or in their pockets.
Americans love freedom so much that we not only "bow up" when we sense that government is over-stepping its limits, we're willing to fight and die in faraway lands so that others might live free.
Throughout our nation's history, the men and women of our military have willingly stepped between tyrants and oppressed peoples, and risked great harm in the cause of liberty for others.
I would go so far as to say that there is no higher form of public service than wearing the uniform of one's country.
If you came of age during the Vietnam War like I did, you probably remember a time when many members of our generation believed the opposite, and made sure everyone knew it, including our military.
Fortunately, America has turned the corner on how we treat the members of our armed forces, and does a much better job showing them the respect they deserve for their willingness to risk their lives in our defense and to set others free.
If there are any veterans here with us today, I hope you will raise your hand and let us know, so we can honor you with our applause and cheers.
Our nation's legacy of liberty can be seen in places like France, Holland and the Philippines, where the "greatest generation" repulsed the Axis powers and set so many free.
Today, a new "greatest generation" is emerging, as our young soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen go boldly in harm's way for the cause of liberty.
The impact of their sacrifice can be seen every time an Iraqi casts a democratic vote, or a girl in Afghanistan enters the school room door to pursue the education denied preceding generations.
These are the acts of a great nation, the sacrifices of a principled people, and the cause for our future hope.
Our republic has endured many threats from enemies foreign and domestic who sought to upset the delicate balance of our system in pursuit of power or wealth.
Our nation has endured because our people are good, our principles are sound, and our purpose is unchanged.
We still believe in the self-evident truths set forth in that Declaration..."that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Our embrace of these principles has set us apart from much of the world and continues to mark our nation as unique.
I am reminded of the words of the great Ronald Reagan, who wrote in an essay nearly 30 years ago, this paragraph.
"Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights, that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people."
Anyone who aspires to elected office should read those words on a regular basis so that he or she never loses sight of the fact that the true strength of our nation is not our government, but our people.
America's strength is the small business owner who takes a risk in pursuit of a dream, and creates jobs in the process.
America's strength is the scoutmaster who, by word and example, teaches young people to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
America's strength is the teacher who labors over lesson plans, and refuses to give up on even the toughest student.
America's strength is the single mom who juggles the demands of work and family, yet always finds time to listen with love as her children reveal their hurts, their hopes and their dreams.
Because we love freedom, we are not a cookie-cutter nation.
Because we love freedom, we are willing and able to speak the truth.
Because we love freedom, we will stand with confidence on the values that made our nation great, no matter how the winds of change might blow.
Together, we can continue our embrace of that vision, captured in verse by Katharine Lee Bates.
O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!
Happy birthday, America, and happy Independence Day to you all.
May God bless you and, through you, may He continue to bless the great state of Texas and this nation we love so much.