Thursday, July 1, 2010

Independence Day

Not long ago I read David McCullough’s wonderful books John Adams and 1776. In each of those great works, there was an emphasis on what would have happened to those early American statesmen had the Revolution failed. Names like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Webster, and Adams. It’s foregone that those men would have been arrested, tried and most probably hanged, and left to become little more than footnotes in British history about how the colonial uprising had been subdued, and how the Empire had gloriously prevailed.

But the Revolution didn’t fail.

Those brave statesmen who staked their lives, their fortunes, and the lives of their families on an outcome that was far from certain, somehow crafted an amazing political and military victory over a numerically superior, battle-hardened, and eventually ruthless foe. Against all odds, those early Americans won with guile, perseverance, courage, and a deep belief that what they were risking would be worth the cost required. We had on our side the genius of Jefferson, the wisdom of Adams, the generalship of Washington, and the common men who left their homes and farms, who braved cold, hunger, and scarcity, and who valiantly fought the battles on their way to becoming uncommon men. Thank God Almighty for those people, for without them we’d be . . .

Well, the Revolution didn’t fail.

Ours isn’t a perfect union; far from it. And nowadays it’s a stretch to look at our elected representatives and find among them the same grit and fiber of the sort that won our national independence. Maybe it’s just me, but if tomorrow the Redcoats were bearing down on Washington, D.C. and our current elected officials were in charge, our newscasts would soon enough switch from CNN to BBC. Maybe that’s an unfair characterization. Maybe there really are stately men and women governing our nation. Maybe. Look for one the next time there’s a televised congressional hearing. Or another disaster in Louisiana. Again, ours isn’t a perfect union.

The good news is that the Revolution didn’t fail.

And we should remember that, always. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died within hours of one another on July 4, 1826. We know how history has judged them. How will history judge us in 200 years?

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