Were there odds makers 238 years ago, the bets likely would’ve been pretty long against the success of the fledgling exercise in democracy and self-government birthed July 4.
The very act of those 56 men signing the radical Declaration of Independence — itself a lengthy finger-in-your-eye list of grievances against a distant king — was considered treason under British law, punishable by death.
Yet they boldly, publicly affixed their names to the document, pledging their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor in support of their avowed self-evident truths, “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.”
Some did die in defense of the cause, some of their families endured abuse, some lost their fortunes, and from 1812-1814 the nascent nation engaged in war it had declared against the British empire.
But the principles the signers and their supporters adamantly believed worth all they possessed, even their lives, endured, and we — all 317 million-plus of us — are now the beneficiaries of their idealism, determination, and sacrifice.
It hasn’t been easy, this exercise in democracy. There was the divisive Civil War, pitting North against South, this nation’s deadliest war, claiming the lives of some 620,000 men, two percent of the entire U.S. population at the time. Hundreds of thousands more would die in two world wars, and “conflicts” and “military actions” in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and various other places around the globe.
Today, we Americans are among the most cosseted populations on the planet. We lead lives that only a generation or two ago would have been unimaginable in terms of technology and comfort, while daily the media bring us heart-wrenching scenes from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, African nations, Ukraine, of people being slaughtered, horribly maimed, or made homeless by wars religious and political, waged by various despots, rulers, Supreme Leaders, presidents, what-have-you.
Relief organizations estimate there are now 50 million refugees, mostly women and children, in these trouble spots, desperate for food and a place of safety for them and their children.
Just as we cannot imagine those long ago Declaration of Independence signers and supporters risking being hanged for their treasonous belief in independence, so we cannot imagine the hardships faced by today’s millions fleeing repressive, murderous governments. All would be ecstatic at the prospects of the lives — and lifestyles — we take for granted.
So, amid the rancor and the stridency of our own political factions and ideologies, the cacophony of voices and opinions bombarding us 24/7, we would do well on this July 4 to pause for a moment and reflect on just how blessed we are to be a part of this long-running experiment in freedom and democracy.