On this July Fourth, our Independence Day, let us consider patriotism. And let us first consider what patriotism is not.

Patriotism is not a flag-burning amendment. It is not a lapel pin. It is not red, white and blue bunting on a political platform. It is not the property of any politician or political party. It is not associated with a particular strategy in Iraq. And while these rituals are admirable ways of expressing affinity for our nation, patriotism is not the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem.

Uniquely among nations, the United States was founded on principles so simply and eloquently expressed in a document formally adopted in our names 230 years ago: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.”

It was, of course, the Declaration of Independence. Thirteen years later, the promise of the Declaration was given fuller expression in the U.S. Constitution, with a Bill of Rights laying out guarantees “to secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Quite simply, patriotism is our adherence to the ideals of those documents. All other countries have flags, anthems, national days and politicians who exploit them. We alone have those founding principles.

The Founding Fathers were anything but the stuffy, solemn group of individuals history sometimes makes them out to be. John Adams, a signer of the Declaration, our first vice president and second president, famously urged that July Fourth “be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

So, go forth. Celebrate. Pursue happiness. It is the patriotic thing to do.

Happy Fourth of July.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)