Independence Day Celebration

Good evening. Boa tarde.

Ministro Mário Centeno,
Ministro Manuel Caldeira Cabral, e outros membros do Governo Português; Membros das Forças Armadas de Portugal;
Deputados da Assembleia da República;
Fellow Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Community;
Representatives of Strike Force NATO, and members of the U.S. Military;
Commander Stefan Walch and the leadership team of the USS Gonzalez;
Colleagues from the United States Embassy;
e Amigos portugueses e americanos a quem muito devemos esta experiência fantástica em Portugal.

I would also like to acknowledge all our sponsors, whose generosity has helped to make this event possible, as well as our band D-Gang. Francisco, you guys better get ‘em dancin’ tonight!

Welcome to our celebration of the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

On this occasion for the past two years, I have spoken about the fundamental freedoms which that document claimed, not just for Americans, but for all people. It proclaimed the inalienable right of every person to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence was not a document of rhetoric, but of decision. And as a result, a new nation was born- an improbable experiment in democracy, founded on a universal claim to human dignity. July 4th is a day to celebrate our freedoms but also to pause to honor those who have fought and died to secure freedom and liberty for people around the world. So to those of you here this evening in uniform, whether in the uniform of the United States or that of another nation united in that cause, I thank you, and your families, for your sacrifice and for your service.

We Americans recognize that the American Revolution was a beginning, not an end. Ever since July 4, 1776 we have, as a nation, sought to become a “more perfect union.” And as President Obama said, we have shown that “The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope. That’s the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we’ve already achieved gives us hope for what we can, and must, achieve tomorrow.” Embedded in America’s promise is the idea that the meaning of freedom can also evolve.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech. In 1941, the world was in the grip of war, and freedom was challenged on all sides by hate, bigotry and intolerance. It was at that dark moment in history that President Roosevelt laid out a vision of hope for all of mankind. He stated that every person in the world should enjoy freedom of speech and expression, and be free to worship God in their own way. Those rights were enshrined in our Constitution already. But he went further, saying that true liberty also must include freedom from want and freedom from fear. Freedom from want means that people should have the basic necessities of life like food, shelter and education. Freedom from fear is the ability to live in an environment free from hate and aggression. What President Roosevelt spoke about was an expanded dignity to which every human being is entitled. And the truth he recognized then, which still applies today, is that world peace and security are inextricably tied to the protection of those human rights.

Today, the idea of freedom is under siege again. It is being tested in new ways across the globe. Fear is the currency of terrorists and hate groups, whether in Aleppo, or Paris, or Istanbul, or Brussels, or Mali, or Orlando. When those driven by hate use violence to deprive individuals of their security, when they cause them to live in fear, it is the obligation of all free nations to join together; and, in the name of humanity, erase those pernicious threats.

As a global community we are also being tested when it comes to our commitment to freedom from want. Refugees pour across Europe from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and other nations facing political upheaval, and endure unspeakable acts of mass violence. These refugees come with the clothes on their backs and children at their sides – by boat or by foot. And those that do not die seek only a better life.

How we respond to the plight of the refugees will offer a very clear answer to the question of whether our commitment to freedom is real or rhetoric. Portugal is answering that call, and setting an example for the world by opening its arms to those most in need. You in Portugal have expanded, and then expanded again, the number of refugees which you have committed to accept. Your plan is to integrate these refugees into local communities; provide education to children and jobs to their parents; to afford them a new life of opportunity and dignity. Mayors in local communities have been calling the national migration service, not to complain about the number of refugees they have received, but to ask why they have not received any yet. The generous spirit of the Portuguese people has deeply moved me and I am so proud to serve in this great country.

We in the United States know the refugee story well. Millions have come to America from distant places, as our founders did, seeking the hope that America embodies: the hope of a better life for their children and their children’s children. My own parents fled religious persecution in Europe during the last century and came to America seeking freedom and opportunity. Today, their son has returned to Europe as the United States Ambassador to Portugal. That promise of America continues. We can see it in the faces of the United States Marines you just saw present the colors. Among them are SSGT Jin Wang, born in China; Sgt Mohammed Sesay, born in Sierra Leone; Sgt. Daphner Aulibrice, born in Haiti and Cpl, Luis Santisteban, born in Puerto Rico.

The road to greater freedom is never a straight path for individuals, nations, or our world. Too often political divisions cause us to lose sight of our common goals; this was as true at America’s beginning as it is today. Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, our second and third presidents, were once united in the cause of independence as co-signers of the Declaration of Independence. They later became bitter political antagonists. They established rival political parties and made nasty personal comments about each other in the press, each condemning the other’s failures as a political leader. But in their old age, and in retirement, these patriots rekindled their friendship based in their shared common purpose. In a heartfelt and poignant letter, Jefferson wrote to Adams: “It carries me back to the time when, beset by difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause for what is most important to man- his right of self-governance.” Shortly after Jefferson’s letter, fate intervened with a powerful reminder of our common destiny. For Jefferson and Adams died on the same day. The date was July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years from the day they together had signed the Declaration of Independence. They gave us a great gift in the Declaration of Independence, provided us with cautionary tale in their partisan fighting, and ultimately left as part of their legacy an enduring lesson in brotherhood and tolerance.

It is a lesson we must invoke today if we truly are committed to furthering Roosevelt’s vision of hope, security and prosperity. We can only accomplish that if, as freedom loving people, we move beyond what divides us and towards what binds us. And if we do, that will be our gift to future generations.

Thank you. Muito Obrigado.

God Bless the United States of America. Deus abençoe Portugal.

E força Portugal!