October 5, 2023

“We Hold These Truths” Examines Impact of America’s Declaration of Independence

By: Justin Tucker

Free to Choose Media has consistently been putting out quality documentaries that educate on the benefits of free markets and personal liberty for over four decades, going back to Milton Friedman’s landmark PBS series Free to Choose in 1980. In recent years, their output has been incredibly prolific, with Thomas Sowell: Common Sense in a Senseless World, Sweden: Lessons for America? and The Real Adam Smith series among their best works.

Their latest documentary is We Hold These Truths: The Global Quest for Liberty, having just wrapped up its run on PBS stations coast to coast. Hosted by Douglas Ginsburg, Senior Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the film teaches audiences about the Declaration of Independence ratified by the delegates of the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and its influence throughout our world. Like other Free to Choose programs, We Hold These Truths is insightful, sophisticated, and among the best items that was recently aired on public television.

The film begins with the story of Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. He begins his Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by directly quoting our declaration. However, as his communist revolution conquered Vietnam, the rights expressed in his declaration – “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” – were violated. As it does with the example of Vietnam, the film then examines the struggle of the United States to hold itself to its founding principles, covering the Declaration’s impact on the movements for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights. 

We Hold These Truths also explores the philosophical roots of the Declaration. It touches on the influence of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, along with Enlightenment thinkers, particularly John Locke, and polemicist Thomas Paine. There is also an examination of the waves of independence that swept parts of the world that were directly influenced by the American Revolution. Vox populi interviews on the streets of DC and Paris with everyday folks reveal profound observations on the Declaration’s legacy and the ability of governments to honor its principles. It also features the expertise of Harvard professor Danielle Allen, whose compelling commentary is featured prominently throughout.

The film marks the second collaboration between Ginsburg and Free to Choose Media after A More or Less Perfect Union, a three-part series on the United States Constitution and its impact. Ginsburg is an amiable host who audiences can tell is very passionate about the American founding documents. In an alternate timeline where the legal prohibition and social stigmas on cannabis are laxer, Judge Ginsburg would have had an esteemed career on the Supreme Court. His work with Free to Choose Media is valuable, but his wisdom as a jurist is of greater value. While we cannot always get what we want, we can be thankful for his involvement in bringing his brand of American civics to television.

We Hold These Truths is the first project of 2023 for the productive Free to Choose Media. On deck is their three-part series entitled Free to Speak. Hosted by Nadine Strossen, law professor and former head of the American Civil Liberties Union, this series will appear on PBS this fall. Free to Choose Media’s programs starkly contrast with standard PBS fare and gives me a reason to watch. I know that if their programming was featured during a pledge drive, I may be inclined to become a benefactor to public television. Documentaries such as We Hold These Truths certainly spice up a network that is too reliant on stuffy British imports, obnoxious puppets, and government subsidies.

We Hold These Truths: The Global Quest for Liberty is available to watch at www.declarationmovie.com.