On This Day...
we celebrate the actions that led to the founding of this country. The founders were
abolitionists and slaveholders, high-minded, and self-interested, believers in the intrinsic rights of men and believers in the rights of the powerful. They shared only a single common interest - freedom from the oppressive tyranny of King George, who was by all accounts a despotic and erratic ruler.
That common interest drew these men together to declare their freedom, and after many tries and failures they created a system of government that was inspired by the most high-minded, and fearful of the most base, and incorporated the potential for room for all.
That system is fundamentally flawed. While famously proclaiming all men to be created equal, it nodded at slavery, it ignored the rights of women, and everyone but white property owners.
Still, the potential for rights of everyone, not just the white male property owners, was enshrined in the system, and as time passed many of those rights have been recognized after the great effort and lives of millions more Americans.
It’s not clear that a more just and fair system could have been created that would have withstood the tests of the early days of the republic. What is clear, is that this government has been emulated, praised, exported to, and aspired to by billions of humans, starting from the very beginning and continuing even to this day.
The Great Experiment, as many of the founders referred to it, was just that, an experiment to see if humanity could govern itself in a humane way, with the rights to govern reserved for the people, not for warlords, or kings or divine mandate. Our Great Experiment staggers on, adjusting, refining, and at times taking steps backwards, as we move through peace and war and crisis, always enduring.
Thomas Jefferson wrote about the advantages he saw in the American system: “Happy for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers and set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions.”
The American system of government perseveres because of the flaws inherent in humanity - it’s design was driven by those flaws, and recognized the imperfections of those that are charged with implementing it. As circumstances arise, we as a people come together and (often) peacefully make such changes as are necessary and prudent. However, we will leave openings and fissures that the corrupt will find and manipulate - because to close them would invite an alternate tyranny. The saviors of our system will not be the documents, or strong leaders, or some other magical solution. The saviors of our system will be ourselves, and our coming together in our common interest to recognize and defeat tyranny, and live in a free society.