Monday, July 4, 2011

Maybe They Knew Something We've All Forgotten

 A toast? Yeah. To high treason. That's what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and *burned*! [brief pause]  So... Here's to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right... (Benjamin Franklin Gates in the movie National Treasure)

The fact of the matter is that the American Revolution was one of the craziest enterprises to ever be successful. For a disorganized and disagreeing collection of colonies to triumph over a well-organized and methodical empire is quite honestly outrageous. It shouldn't have worked. It almost didn't.

I'm not an expert and this isn't a history course so I'll spare you my rambling and excitable version of the Revolution. But it saddens me that so many people, so many Americans, don't really know the story of how it all happened. We toss around some names--Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, perhaps Adams--and the only date we all know is 1776, but we don't really know what it means.

I asked my students why we celebrate the Fourth of July. They shrugged, they hummed, they tried to change the subject. One finally said to celebrate our freedom. But they had no idea freedom from what, why freedom is so important. Why that one word is used to symbolize the American dream and spirit.

A quick perusal through Facebook shows post after post about the Fourth of July, let freedom ring, support the troops. I'm all for supporting the troops, and think we should thank them every chance we get.  But that's not exactly what Independence Day is about. That's why we created Memorial Day and Veteran's Day--to specifically  honor those who have fallen and those who have served to keep us free. Independence Day is to celebrate the declaring of that freedom, the throwing off of chains, to revel in freedom itself.

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." ~~ John Adams

Our founding fathers took great risks--personal and political--in declaring independence from Britain. Had they failed the consequences would've been devastating--personally and politically. I don't want to be part of making them into these mythological gods, larger than life, doing no wrong. They were men, in many ways ordinary men--farmers, lawyers, business owners--but they became extraordinary through their tenacious belief in doing what was right. They were thinking men. Each one contributing great thought, care, and passion into fixing what was wrong with their world. They weren't perfect men, but they were honorable men, brave men.

And their wives were cut out of similar fabric. Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson were women of amazing personal strength. Holding down the farm, raising children, minding the property with husbands gone for months at a time. In a time without phones, radio, vacuum cleaners, antibiotics, or Windex. And feminists want to call these women weak simply because they had no jobs outside of the home? These women were not kept down by men. Their men leaned on them heavily as help-mates, as the Bible says it should be. They were keen, educated, witty, strong, and brave women. My generation should take a page from their book.

And perhaps that's the ultimate point of this post. Maybe we should all take some time to dig into our own past, follow the thread of the American story back to the beginning. As a nation we need to shrug off this mind-numbing apathy and find out what being an American really means, and what it really took to create our nation. Perhaps we'll find some answers for our current problems. After all, if the Founding Fathers managed to pull off the impossible, maybe they knew something that we've forgotten.

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