A day to reflect

July 04, 2013

Independence Day was born of the specific idea that a free people must be governed by rules agreed to by many, not the whims of a few.

This is spelled out clearly in the Declaration of Independence. It’s not subject to interpretation, nor is it an idea that has been antiquated by time. Unlike the Constitution or congressional law, it does not have to be parsed by an elite group in black robes.

It is the most simple, most fundamental tenant of the United States of America. It was the mantra of the revolutionaries who fought for, and died for, this nation.

So how can we, on both ends of the political spectrum, get such a straightforward notion so wrong?

Today, our discourse seems dominated by small groups that wish themselves to be kings. They hold firm and refuse compromise on they grounds that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and it is therefore their duty to inflict their will on the great unwashed who, through their own unfortunate ignorance, are unable to see the light.

We suspect that King George, he of the tyranny so elegantly outlined in Jefferson’s document, felt much the same way in the mid-1700s.

He was dead right, of course, and only trying to do what was best for those unruly children across the great sea. The majority there disagreed, obviously, but wasn’t that to be expected? They had not been preordained with his wisdom and clarity. It was up to him to hold out against concession, even at the risk of all-out war.

Of course, we understand today, or should, that it was this tyranny that gave the Founders such a clear sense of their objective, and the methods they would need to employ to achieve it. Against every instinct of their beings, they as individuals compromised, not because they believed they were wrong, but because they saw in the image of King George the flaws and blind spots that are so prominent in those who don’t.

Even Jefferson’s document was not exactly Jefferson’s document. He complained loudly that it had been “mangled” by the congressional editing process.

Indeed, Delaware, South Carolina and Pennsylvania at first voted against the resolution declaring independence. New York abstained. Years later, there would be similar discord (although much worse) with the midwifing of our Constitution.

Talk that “the Founding Fathers thought this” or the “Founding Fathers believed that” is categorically wrong. The Founders’ thoughts and beliefs were all over the map.

And it was precisely this melting pot, not just of peoples but of ideas, that was the true genius of the young nation.

And it’s why that nation has lived into at least middle age.

Hybrids are strong because they synthesize the best traits of many. We are weakened only when we begin to believe that our breeding, our ideology, our sense of the truth is somehow superior to others. But America is America because no one is that special. And because no one is special, everyone is special.

It was a notion upon which, after some argument, our Founders were able to agree with 237 years ago today.

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