Beyond these political disputes is a metaphysical question that matters. What is a founding? Why have generations of Americans considered 1776 our birth date — as opposed to 1781, when we won our independence militarily at Yorktown; or 1783, when we won it diplomatically through the Treaty of Paris; or 1788, when our system of government came into existence with the ratification of the Constitution?

The answer is that, unlike other dates, 1776 uniquely marries letter and spirit, politics and principle: The declaration that something new is born, combined with the expression of an ideal that — because we continue to believe in it even as we struggle to live up to it — binds us to the date.

Contrary to what the 1619 Project claims, 1776 isn’t just our nation’s “official” founding. It is our symbolic one, too. The metaphor of 1776 is more powerful than that of 1619 because what makes America most itself isn’t four centuries of racist subjugation. It’s 244 years of effort by Americans — sometimes halting, but often heroic — to live up to our greatest ideal. That’s a struggle that has been waged by people of every race and creed. And it’s an ideal that continues to inspire millions of people at home and abroad.