“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately” ~ Benjamin Franklin, July 4, 1776
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve never faced a situation wherein if I didn’t succeed (or was captured), I’d likely be executed on the spot. I also have no real experience with the kind of hardship people on both sides of the Revolutionary War endured, nor do I hope to in the future. All I know is that I’m thankful for the sacrifices made, the challenges overcome, the indignities weathered and the sequence of events that led from ancestors on both the Searle and Fishel sides of the family leaving the Old World for this place of mystery and possibility to my being born an American (in Oklahoma City, to be exact) a few — not saying how many — decades ago.
The unlikelihood of this thing known as the American Experiment makes it all the more incredible to ponder, given the odds against the revolutionaries actually defeating the British in the first case, coupled with the eyebrow-raising notion of founding a nation solely upon the concept of self-government. It was a rare and inspired vision, a glimpse of what would come to be known as the American spirit, that convinced the engineers of this experiment that their idea could somehow succeed.
This vision for America saw in the citizenry not perfection, but a combination of courage, resiliency and toughness (forged in the fires of the just-won war), humility and moral steadfastness that might just give this honor system a chance of working. They’d experienced the pitfalls of monarchy and governmental tyranny themselves and thought this radical idea, which exalted the sovereignty of the individual over class or bloodlines, and which largely left in the hands of the citizenry responsibility for their own well-being.
The founders believed that granting these ground-floor Americans the autonomy to work out their own personal and professional relationships and contracts was a win-win thing, with the general sense of accountability to one another and to a higher authority (the Creator whom they credit for the rights they pledged to protect) yielding a social and political environment in which each citizen’s God-given potential could best be realized.
These men were not naïve, however … they understood well the tendency of governmental power to corrupt (thus the system of checks and balances) and knew that the point at which a majority of citizens chose to take advantage of this honor system’s vulnerabilities may well spell the end of the experiment. “A republic, IF you can keep it,” were Franklin’s knowing answer to the question, “What have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?
I was reminded of the true miracle that brings Americans together on this occasion recently, both by a quick trip up to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota (seems as if I’m the last Colorado resident to finally make my way up there) and a little snapshot of life outside our local King Soopers.
“What’s the possible connection?” you ask. The spur-of-the-moment trip to the monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota was a reminder of the freedoms we still enjoy, and that so many around the world can only imagine. The story behind sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s against-all-odds achievement in stone (overcoming obstacles financial, physical, meteorological and attitudinal) runs parallel with the perfect alignment of circumstances that made the United States of America possible.
The King Soopers episode involved a 3-year-old boy running out of the store, away from his mom and toward the traffic passing by the front door. Within a few strides she was able to grab him, pulling him to her side and safely out of potential harm’s way. Our need for healthy boundaries, whether in the form of mom’s loving hand or the occasionally-called-for swift kick to the butt (which I’ve earned more than once) illustrates the required balance between an independence for which we may not quite be ready and the hard-earned independence that our founders enshrined.
To borrow from Lee Greenwood, I am indeed proud to be an American. And to those who claim than one subset or another of our citizenry has it particularly rough these days, I ask “compared to where and at what point in human history?” She’s far from perfect (as is anything in which humans get involved; ‘tis the nature of the beast), but America has shown an historically unusual inclination toward introspection and self-betterment through the generations.
Here’s a hypothetical for you: Let’s say you and I could go back 244 years, knowing what we now know, and establish our families for the next 12 generations in any country on any continent. We’d be right here, wouldn’t we? Happy, blessed and grateful Independence Day, fellow Americans!
Charlie Searle has lived in Monument since 1994 and is active in a variety of pursuits in the Tri-Lakes area, as his tagline “Meat, Motors, Music, Media” attests. Contact Charlie at AlongTheDivide@pikespeaknewspapers.com.