Two hundred twenty-six! Compared to the age of all other great nations, America is still a babe in arms. Were she still living, my mother would be 113, my father 119, making each of them at least half the age of the Republic. This personal perspective is what reminds me that America is so very young.
Technically, America was born on September 17, 1787, the date the Constitution of the United States of America was adopted and became the supreme law of the nation. It took 11 years for the colonies to hammer out and finally agree upon a lasting, workable plan for government. (Some American officials expected Iraq to do so within six months.)
The creation and ratification of the Constitution was a victory for the world because it was a victory for ideas, not personalities. The document centered not on the wishes of a powerful, tyrannical individual, which is what the world was accustomed to, but on the collective intellect and noble intentions of a small group of men. Only the Golden Age of Greece can be compared to the dreams and expectations held by America’s founders gathered in Philadelphia.
America’s form of government has thrived for just over two centuries and is still the oldest continuous government in the world based on a written constitution. What a journey we have taken in those two centuries. What a testimony that journey is to the capacity of individual liberty to unleash human potential, to improve and enrich people’s lives.
Even though 1787 is the actual year of our nation’s formal beginning, we still like to revere and cheer both 1776 and July 4, the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Well, that we should. The meaning, the excitement and the imagery of Independence Day have infused us ever since John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail expressing hope that Americans would “commemorate our day of deliverance with pomp and parade.”
Interestingly enough, Adams, in his now famous letter to Abigail, was actually referring to July 2, the date on which the Second Continental Congress had approved a resolution of independence. It was two days later that the formal Declaration would be adopted. Though Adams may have jumped the gun, freedom-loving Americans can appreciate his exuberance.
At any rate, 13 disparate colonies eventually became a nation. It was a union of Puritans and planters, of simple religious folk and aristocratic landowners, of rich merchants and ragtag farmers. No single, Lenin-type revolutionary stirred colonial America to revolution. Colonials were stirred, pure and simple, by an idea, the fresh idea that people could govern themselves and be done with old line European monarchy.
In the Declaration, Jefferson pinned Britain’s excesses squarely on her monarch, King George III — “He has …, He has …, He has …” — and thereby listed 20 major infractions that the King had visited upon the colonies.
The list is vintage Jefferson. To re-read it is to refresh one’s mind on what government ought and ought not to do. Re-reading the Declaration should remind us, particularly in light of the federal government’s recent excesses, of what we have and what we must guard.
Some Americans bristle with superiority to think that their country was built largely by descendants of Europe’s outcasts and Africa’s disenfranchised. Yet the beauty of America is that while our political/philosophical founders were intellectuals, they understood well that the new nation’s future would rest on the shoulders of shopkeepers, farmers, laborers, soldiers, entrepreneurs and even former jailbirds, so they fashioned a government friendly to them. Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and company believed that if a new nation of free people marched forth from their efforts in Philadelphia, common folk would be its vanguard.
Compare such a hope and vision to the centuries of rule by despots like George III, Louis XIV, the Russian Romanovs and the prissy little corporal from Corsica.
Today the enemy of freedom is no longer such larger than life despots. In modern America, freedom’s enemy is the entrenched, hidden bureaucrats of the IRS, the NSA, the EPA, OSHA and any other agency that defies the letter and the spirit of the Declaration and the Constitution. God forbid that we allow these unelected but powerful despots to be the monarchs of our era.
Happy 4th! Attend a parade and think of John Adams.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher.