Patriotism, Unwavering Principles and Boundless Effort
We are now officially in the summer season with the heavy rain and snowpack finally in the rearview mirror, so we can get on with our outdoor vacation plans (which may include snow or water-skiing this year in Tahoe or boating on a full California reservoir). With Independence Day here, I thought I’d take a moment to remember the events that led up to our nation’s birth 241 years ago, especially at a time when political stances are very divisive.
There are lessons to be learned from Independence Day, great lessons (and stories too) that underscore the courage and commitment upon which this country was founded.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed…with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In language certain to inspire patriots, and gall the King and England, a Declaration of Independence was adopted today by the Continental Congress. The Declaration is the defiant culmination of years of struggle between the new nation and its former protector. In ringing terms it lists the causes of the split, as well as describing the principles on which the new nation intends to govern itself.
“Nothing important happened today.” —Diary entry by King George III on July 4, 1776. Little did George know what was brewing across the Atlantic on that fateful day.
For most of us, the Fourth of July promises the opportunity to relax, a few days on which to do precisely “nothing important.” It’s a time for sizzling burgers on the grill, spiking volleyballs at the beach, and shouting our approval as fireworks blast colorful patterns in the night sky.
There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of a well-earned day off and relaxing with family and friends. But there are lessons to be learned from Independence Day, great lessons that underscore the courage and commitment upon which this country was founded.
You often hear advice thrown about, such as “Be a leader,” “Act decisively,” and “Never give up.” We’ve heard these ideas so often they’ve become cliché that have lost some of their meaning. So let’s use this July 4 as the perfect time to look at such advice operating in a revolutionary context.
Here are just some of the inspiring lessons the founding citizens of this country can still teach us today.
It was treasonous for the colonies to break away from King George III and declare independence, but knowing the risks they were undertaking, 56 delegates from the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. As Benjamin Franklin stated at the time, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” The actions of our Founding Fathers, all of whom had much to lose, is the very definition of boldness.
Where in our own lives to we have the resolve, boldness to dream and demand change? What do we believe in?
As Samuel Adams as a skilled writer was stoking the fires of rebellion among the colonists, King George III sought Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage to persuade Adams to cease his revolutionary activities. Samuel Adams in his discord with Colonel Fenton to change his position stated “tell Governor Gage that I trust I have long since made my peace with the King of Kings. No personal consideration shall induce me to abandon the righteous cause of my country. And tell Governor Gage it is the advice of Samuel Adams to him, no longer to insult the feelings of an exasperated people.”
How many of us have such unshakable principles, and the inner strength to back them up?
In the 18th Century there were no distractions from emails, texts, phone calls, tweets or Facebook or LinkedIn posts. How many of us can truly unplug and manage without the Internet?
The leaders of the rebellion placed a high priority on staying connected and spreading the word – The British are coming, the British are coming.
Influential networking by the likes of Franklin, Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and Thomas Paine galvanized the colonists, particularly Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was widely circulated and turned the tide of public opinion toward independence. No more technology than a printing press to create an effective communication strategy.
What do we do personally to generate buzz and excitement about our ideas and beliefs? How willing are we to spread the word about the causes that we support?
Though independence was declared in 1776, it would take 6 trying years before the dream of freedom from English rule would be realized. During that time, General George Washington lost more battled than he would win. Some of his men would desert him. His trusted friend, Benedict Arnold, would betray him. Thousands of lives would be lost and untold property destroyed. There were many opportunities to give up, but true compatriots did not. Washington and others refused to be defeated by power and tradition. They changed the course of history.
How resilient are we in the face of obstacles? How do we deal with setbacks and hardship?
While soldiers were defending our nation’s freedom with their lives, there were many more Americans toiling behind the scenes. John Adam’s wife, Abigail, oversaw the daily working of the family farm, managed the finances, raised and educated 5 children (including future president John Quincy Adams). Like most women of her time, Mrs. Adams had no formal schooling, so she educated herself.
On the eve of independence, Mrs. Adams wrote her husband, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and by more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
How do we balance work, civic responsibilities, and family life? How do we redress the accepted infringements of liberty still present in our time?
While Thomas Jefferson received many accolades for the Declaration, John Adams also served on the writing committee and was instrumental in bringing the Declaration to life. While the two men were patriots in arms to win independence, the later became political adversaries. Later in life the two men renewed their friendship once again. Oddly enough, both Jefferson and Adams both passed away on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of their magnum opus.
Adams, on the morning of that particular July 4th, was asked by a servant if he knew the date. The 90-year old Adams responded, “Oh yes, it’s the glorious fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all.”
How well each of us greet our last day? With regret of unfinished business and unresolved conflict? Or with the pride of a life well led?
Jefferson’s words to the Declaration of Independence captures an idea and spirit that predate them. The notion of freedom lived in the hearts and minds of the colonists for a long time before it was finally committed to paper. But once written down, once codified, the idea gained clarity and strength. The Declaration became the touchstone of the democratic ideal to harness the power of the will of the people to be free.
Building on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Jefferson drafted a document that became a call to action. He penned the ultimate mission statement of the country – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Do we know what we are working toward in life? Do we know what legacy our work will leave for those generations that will follow? Do we have our own personal mission statement?
The U.S. Constitution
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The U.S. Constitution is the foundational text of our great country and its amazing, self-renewing American Dream. It’s the bible to our civil religion; the operating rules for the successful operation of the longest-running Democracy in history.
Yet, I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a copy of it in very many homes in this country. It’s the most important, largely invisible document in America! (click here to read it in its entirety)
It’s a powerful opening to a powerful document, and its call to “form a more perfect Union.”
Every generation of Americans is charged with that duty to contribute toward making a more perfect Union. To me, it’s the price of Liberty in a free and open society such as ours.
Yet, the beauty of our system of government is that it’s up to you to participate at any level you’d like—or not. (No one forces you to do very much other than the obvious.)
In reading all that’s there (and some of what’s no longer there because it was repealed) is a keen reminder that perfecting the Union is a hard, ongoing process. It’s not perfect. It never will be. And it’s up to us to stay engaged in that never-ending process of perfecting.
But the thing that has set our great nation apart from all others is the fact that it is dedicated to a proposition — laid out in the Declaration of Independence — and it is governed by a set of rules — the U.S. Constitution — that has proven both enduring and flexible enough to keep us strong and guide our decades of progress as a dynamic, freedom-loving, innovative society.
Regardless of your politics — right, center, left, ? — it’s good to be reminded that the Founders who gave us this amazing U.S. Constitution knew that it wasn’t perfect, that it couldn’t be made absolutely perfect and that, indeed, they enjoined of all us to continue to strive to always make it a more perfect Union.
We’ve always been a nation where people have different ideas about how we should be governed. It’s that tension between varying points of view—and a Constitution that empowers people to hold contentious and contrary opinions—that always astounds people from other countries where such Liberty and Freedom is not allowed.
I believe that despite the hard times and challenges we now face as a nation, that the Sun is still rising on the Great American Dream.
So, on this Fourth of July, I ask you to be thankful for all our freedoms, to be grateful to all who’ve sacrificed to get us here, and to remember that as the Melting Pot of the World and the longest-running Democracy in history, we will always have our differences of opinion.
But as long as we stay engaged in the process of perfecting our Union, we will know that at the start of each day, “by the dawn’s early light,” that our flag is still there.
Have a wonderful Independence Day.