Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Fourth of July 2007: 231 Years of Independence

The Fourth of July has long been my favorite holiday. Perhaps it relates to the summer of '78 when I got my first "real" job out of high school. I started on July 3rd and on July 4th I was floating in a pool eating barbecued chicken and drinking beer while pulling in $3.00 an hour. Life was good! My first paid holiday. Maybe it relates to the summer of '76 (1976) when I sat on Fort Lauderdale beach right to next to the fireworks pit and watched the fireworks. We were so close that bits of fireworks fell on us.

But what we should all remember on July 4th is the summer of 1776 when the Founding Fathers took that momentous step and declared our independence from England. In an age when royalty was believed to be ordained by God to rule over the populous, they had the temerity, the unmitigated gall, the nerve to declare themselves no longer bound by the edicts of their King and his parliament. These were for the most part wealthy men with much to lose. George Washington was one of the richest men in America. His home was a grand palace in a nation of rough hewn log cabins and shacks. And yet he and the others risked it all to establish a grand experiment in republican government. They established a nation ruled by the people and for the people. A nation not of men, but of laws where the rights of the individual are acknowledged and respected over the rights of the state. Where individual rights could be protected from majority rule and not taken away by the vote of others. A country where no man or woman ruled over any other by divine edict.* We take it for granted today, but in the 18th century this was unheard of. Democratic republics didn't exist. Men with power never gave it up willingly. No one went to war so that all might be free.

There is no better example of the selflessness of the Founding Fathers than George Washington. How many modern power hungry politicians would pass up a golden opportunity to be king? George Washington could have been king, but instead he followed the example of Cincinnatus. George Washington's example set the tradition that presidents would only serve two terms and then return to private life. There would be no dynasties. Compare that to the spectacle of the privileges that public officials grant themselves and the way that Congressional delegates and Senators view themselves as elected for life. They rarely give up power willingly even in their dotage. Make no mistake about it, the Founding Fathers were extraordinary men who came together in an extraordinary time. Many of them were self-made and not born to privilege. Alexander Hamilton was a poor lad from the Caribbean islands, and yet rose to become the first Secretary of the Treasury and to establish the foundations of the banking system we still use today. All that mattered was brains and talent. Birthright was irrelevant.

So take a minute today while you're enjoying your barbecued chicken, or hot dog, or hamburger and reflect on the extraordinary men who made this holiday possible. Ask yourself would you do the same? Would you risk a comfortable life to make the world a freer place not only for yourself but for all men and women?* And while you're at it, reflect also on the extraordinary men and women who have defended our country in the past and who are serving abroad now in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, and around the world on the land and seas and in the air. Our military has volunteered to serve. Think about that --- they've volunteered to leave their comfortable lives to get shot at. They deserve our thanks. Thank you servicemen and women around the world.

* Yes, I am fully aware of the contradiction that many of these same men subjugated others and kept slaves, including Jefferson and Washington. I know it is popular to focus on the foibles of the Founding Fathers and to hold them to the same standards that we follow 231 years later. They are easy targets in our politically correct world because they were all white men and that is very unfashionable today. However, they were men of their times and not of ours. Their flaws don't make their accomplishments any less extraordinary. Make no mistake about it, what they did created the U.S. and all of us of every race, creed and color enjoy a better life today because of it whether you realize it or not.

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