Celebrate, and remember the real work of making America continues with each new generation
Each year, we set aside July 4 as a day to celebrate all that America has been, and all that it has the potential to become.
As our founders well knew, they were not launching a new government so much as a new idea— that The People could, in their own right, create their own destiny, substituting the consent of the governed for the rule of kings.
Two hundred and thirty-eight years later, it’s sometimes easy to take their work for granted, or to cast a cynical eye towards the frequent failings of our government. We’ve certainly reported on disappointing examples over the past years.
The founders never promised, nor even envisioned, perfection from our government. They were learned men, and they well knew the many foibles of the species. The founders would likely be alarmed at some of the changes that we’ve experienced over the years, the growth of the surveillance state, most notably.
But we suspect they would also be pleasantly surprised at much of what their work has brought forth over the centuries.
It is easy, in the present day, to see our country’s many flaws as evidence that we have strayed from the vision of the founders. Yet America in 1776 was far from a land of milk and honey— and its political fault lines were, in many cases, far broader and deeper than those that divide us today. Partisan rancor was rampant in those early years, and the young nation saw alarming backpedaling on the founders’ vision with passage of the Alien and Sedition Act under President John Adams.
At that time, slavery was still legal in many states, government jobs were handed out based purely on the spoils system, and parts of the country were, occasionally, in open revolt.
And the country still had to survive the Civil War, which nearly destroyed the nation and left decades of bitter division in its wake. It’s worth noting that for most of our nation’s history, women had, essentially, no political or economic rights, and minorities of all kinds faced state-sanctioned discrimination in a whole host of ways.
While America in 2014 is far from perfect, we believe our founders would marvel at how their original principles have survived, and been built upon, through the generations.
As President Obama is fond of saying, the arc of history is long, but it bends towards freedom. That has consistently been the story of America. It seems every generation takes another step or two down that long road towards a more perfect Union.
In just the past decade, for example, we have witnessed the election and re-election of our first African-American president. And we have seen a clear majority of Americans, for the first time, acknowledge that our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness applies to all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation.
There is, of course, a long and winding road still ahead of us. America has come far, but it isn’t yet all it could be. Americans should be concerned that economic wealth is increasingly translating into political power, and that this trend, fostered so fervently by the current Supreme Court, could undermine the notion of government of the people and by the people. And partisan rancor has kept the country from taking action to address the economy, as well as global challenges, like climate change.
On this day of genuine and appropriate celebration, we should all acknowledge our own role in making America better. We need to reclaim the somewhat forgotten mantle of Citizen and take pride, once again, in our own participation in the hard work of self-governance. That, after all, is the real work of America.