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'Morning Edition' listeners weigh in on their favorite passages from the Declaration of Independence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two hundred forty-eight years ago today, the Continental Congress adopted a text for the Declaration of Independence.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

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It said 13 colonies were breaking free of Great Britain and listed many grievances as the reasons why. It also included a few lines that became the essential creed of the new United States.

INSKEEP: We invited NPR listeners to talk about words and passages they find meaningful.

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HALEY ZAPEL: Hi. My name is Haley Zapel (ph), and I'm from Atlanta, Ga. It is definitely, we hold these truths to be self-evident. Every day in America, when we exercise our various rights, it's clear that it's what humans are supposed to be allowed to do - speak freely, worship without restraint, and protest to our hearts' content. I don't ever feel bad going to a protest and holding up signs that may offend some people and not others. It's clear that we are just a very free people here in America, and I think the founders really would have appreciated that. It could be no other way, hence, self-evident, like they said.

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HENRY MORALES: Hi. My name is Henry Morales (ph), and I'm from San Diego. So my favorite phrase from the declaration - it's right near the beginning. They say that among our unalenable rights is particularly the pursuit of happiness. The world we live in looks a lot different than the one that existed during our fight for independence. Since our conception as a country, we've earned quite a bit to our name. We went for round 2 with Britain for once. We became a nation of immigrants, we sang the body electric. We discovered 23 chemical elements and set our footprints on the moon. We invented baseball, the personal computer, and the Twinkie.

And of course, along the way, we've fallen short countless times. But, you know, this line, the pursuit of happiness, serves as a reminder to me that, no matter how much we've done as a country, what it means for us to be American is to look beyond what we have done and instead find what hasn't been done.

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ASHLEY BEATIE PETS: Hi. My name is Ashley Beatie Pets (ph) from Boise, Idaho. My favorite word in the declaration is liberty, as in, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I really like the true definition of liberty. It means the state of quality of being free or the power to do as one chooses. I think that the word liberty has been coopted, and we've lost our understanding of what this word actually means. Right now in our country, almost all marginalized communities do not have full access to what I think are their unalienable rights and their liberties.

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SUSAN: Hi. My name is Susan (ph), and I'm from White Plains, N.Y. My favorite phrase is, all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Because I think it's true, I think people will put up with a lot, especially when they become used to it. I think it takes imagination and bravery to go against the norm. I think politically, we're very used to our two-party system, even though it doesn't meet the needs of most people. So I think we need imagination and bravery to change these systems to better meet everybody's needs in America.

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HALEY MEWETU: Hi. My name is Haley Mewetu (ph), and I'm from Draper, Utah. My favorite line from the Declaration of Independence is, in every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. When we talk about 4 July, we talk about fireworks and backyard barbecues and, you know, matching patriotic T shirts. But in 1776, this was an act of treason. And it was scary. It was unheard of. But ultimately, it was very necessary. So we are constitutionally now protected from the, quote, "repeated injury" that the founding fathers mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. And I think this line just reminds us what it means to be in the United States of America.

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SAM CORN: Hi. My name is Sam Corn (ph), and I'm from Seattle, Wash. I think my favorite line, word or phrase from the Declaration of Independence at the moment comes right after the list of grievances Jefferson had sort of articulated against the crown and against what the British government had been doing to the colonists at the time. And the line is, a prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. I think at its core, this country has faced princes who want to be tyrants before, and I don't think 1776 was the last time. I think we once again are in a time when we're facing people who seek despotism and tyranny against democracy. I think it's obviously a scary thing to be facing, but I think there is some comfort in knowing that we've faced it before and that we've overcome.

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ALEX: Hi. My name is Alex (ph). I'm from Pasadena, Calif. So my favorite line from the Declaration of Independence is actually at the very, very end. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. What really makes it powerful for me is that it's a pledge of loyalty to one another in the adversity of a growing war. It further calls upon heaven and Earth as a witness to their actions, knowing that they will be held accountable for their individual choices. And if they fail, they forfeit their property and they will have lived and lost their lives in vain. It's a reminder for us today that this nation didn't just pop into existence overnight. It's a result of hard work and sacrifice of which we living today, have benefited from. It also reminds us that our national failure or success is still our own responsibility.

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FADEL: Favorite passages from the Declaration of Independence from NPR listeners across the country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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