Independence Day Remarks

Bem-vindos e boa noite.

Welcome and good evening.

Members of the Portuguese government
Members of the Portuguese Armed Forces
Deputies of the National Assembly
Fellow Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Community Colleagues from the United States Embassy and the US Military; and
Our Portuguese and American Friends:

Kim and I are thrilled to be here in Portugal, on this beautiful night, in such a wonderful country, as we celebrate our national day. And we are gratified to have you with us this evening.

I would also like to thank all of our sponsors, whose generosity has helped to make this event possible, as well as the members of the U.S. Air Force band—Touch N’ Go. [Just as good as Rolling Stones]

On behalf of President Obama, the people of the United States of America and Embassy Lisbon, I am honored to speak to you about the meaning of this day—which commemorates not a birthday, nor even an event, but an ideal. And that ideal is freedom.

I am a proud son of Massachusetts, where our revolution began, so the roots of our nation’s freedom have special meaning to me.

Some of you may know something of our revolution—for instance, that it marks our independence from Great Britain’s King.

You may not know that it also marks the beginning of the strong friendship between the United States and Portugal when Pedro Francisco, a young man of 16 years old from the Azores, volunteered for George Washington’s Continental Army, to join our fight for freedom. He was a fearless soldier, and a hero of many battles despite having sustained numerous wounds.

My country commemorated Pedro Francisco’s service, and his bravery, by erecting monuments in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and issuing a postage stamp in his memory on the bicentennial of the Revolution.

The friendship between our two great countries—the United States of America and Portugal—extends throughout my country’s history. That friendship derives not just from the interactions between our two peoples, although those are important, but from a shared set of values.

And as we celebrate the 238th anniversary of our revolution, and Portugal celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, we look to our Declaration of Independence and see the common values that sparked both revolutions and that bind our two countries together to this day.

On July 4th, 1776, our Declaration was read aloud for the first time in public. The majesty of the document comes from the fact that it declared not only to the people of the thirteen America colonies, but to the world, that freedoms are not granted to a people by a monarch or even a government.

Instead, our Founding Fathers recognized that people have natural rights. They wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our Declaration endures as a statement to the world, because it contains not just a list of our grievances against the King, which it does, or the formulation of the novel ideals I just spoke about, but because it is a call to action to all people in the world who live in oppression.

Our Founding Fathers recognized that long established governments should not be changed for light and transient causes, and were mindful that it is mankind’s nature to endure the evils of an oppressive government as long as tolerable, rather than change that to which they are accustomed.

Nevertheless, they declared that the pursuit by a people of liberty and democracy is always justified; and to that cause, they pledged “their Lives, their Fortunes and their Sacred Honor.”

So we as a nation had constructed ourselves not on what makes us different from other people, but what we have in common, regardless of geography or different histories.

President Obama echoed these sentiments when he said the following: “We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words – within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.”

In our own country, the road to securing those freedoms, has not been easy. Americans have experienced a brutal civil war, a divisive campaign to establish the right to vote for women, and a continuing and agonizing struggle to establish civil rights for all our citizens.

Indeed during his “I Have a Dream” speech on the mall in Washington D.C., Martin Luther King said that when the architects of our republic wrote those magnificent words in the Declaration of Independence, they were “signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

Are our struggles over? I think not. For as long as we have been a democracy, we have always debated the proper expansion of our freedoms. But our history has demonstrated that for our society, the arc of justice always bends towards equality.

These debates are bound to continue because, as Fernando Pessoa teaches us: “Everything is worthy if the soul is not small.”

The concept of liberty and the right to self-government as embodied in our Declaration of Independence remains, 238 years later, the most powerful force in the world today. In each country in the world shaken by a revolution—Including the Carnation Revolution 40 years ago in this country—there has been active governmental resistance to those principals. And if there is a single issue that unites all people, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia or the Americas, it is the clarion call of liberty and equality.

Yet, we also live in a world inhabited by those who seek to deny us the values we cherish. They are jihadists in mountain camps in Afghanistan who seek to turn harmless passenger planes into lethal missiles; they are extremists trained as fighters in Syria returning as terrorists to countries in Western Europe. They are state actors who believe that the killing of others based solely on their belief system is a divine calling.

Securing our liberties is no longer simply an issue of national concern. Protecting our common inalienable rights is the shared responsibility of all nations who live in freedom.

Half a century ago, on July 4th in Philadelphia, President Kennedy gave a speech, the significance of which continues to resound on the international stage.

He declared that the era of national independence had passed in favor of international interdependence – what he termed not the individual liberty of one but the indivisible liberty of all. And he called for the establishment of an Atlantic partnership, envisioning a united Europe as an equal partner for the United States in what he called “all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations.”

Fifty two years ago, President Kennedy recognized that acting alone, the United States could not establish justice throughout the world, nor could we even insure domestic tranquility at home. Only by acting cooperatively with like-minded nations, could we mount a powerful deterrent to aggression, and achieve a world of law, and free choice.

So tonight, we Americans gather, together with our friends from Portugal and around the world on the grounds of this Embassy to celebrate our common ideals.

As we do so, let us also remember that in this century our call to action is not to declare independence from each other but to embrace our interdependence on each other, united in the cause of freedom and democracy throughout the world.

God bless you, and God bless the United States and Portugal.

Thank you and please enjoy the rest of the evening.