In three days, our country will celebrate 236 years since a group of middle-aged, fairly well-off white guys declared independence from a super-rich white guy they had never even met. It boiled down to this: They didn’t much care to fork over their hard-earned money to someone who did little beyond dress well, eat well, and collect money he didn’t exactly earn. They declared, first and foremost, the right to keep their money.
And thus began a great experiment. Democracy…and (let’s be honest) free market capitalism.
I love this country, and the freedoms and rights that endure thanks to 236 years of blood, sweat and tears shed by the millions who contributed to the American storyline. Because of these sacrifices, I view it as a personal responsibility to keep myself informed of both the state of our nation now as well as the state of our nation then.
Love of country, however, does not blind me to reality. A great experiment means that we must possess the humility to be flexible in our assessment of which parts of the experiment are working, and which parts might need tweaking.
The framers of the Constitution wrote these words as the Revolutionary War ended and our nation was born:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
They went on to carefully craft and debate seven Articles outlining how to run the country, that Preamble their guiding light. The ink was barely dry when they realized that maybe they had left out some key ideas that were the true fire-in-the-belly bases of the Revolution. In the early fall of 1789, the first ten amendments to the Constitution went live, and probably viral by 18th century standards; our Bill of Rights.
But it still wasn’t perfect. The experiment already needed tweaking.
Two more amendments came within 15 years to further outline how to run things…but still far from perfect.
A lifetime would pass before “all men are created equal” became the law of the land. Huge oversight.
Another lifetime would pass before women were acknowledged as being born with the same inalienable right to fully participate as citizens of this country. (This was 143 years after the Declaration of Independence began the process to pry that right from the grip of a far-away monarch. Less than one hundred years ago from today before women wrested it for themselves. Can you imagine, ladies?)
More and more amendments over the years; one amendment, that infringed just a little too much into private lives and also put a bump in the road of commerce, was repealed. Definitely not perfect yet.
Still more amendments came refining how to run things and how to do it ever more fairly.
Twenty-seven times ‘We the People’ decided that the Constitution was not perfect and that the experiment needed tweaking. In some cases the federal government sought to lay a law in the land to insure rights where the individual states failed. So important were some of these rights that we fought another blood-soaked war.
We are a nation, no longer a loose collective. Our responsibility is to keep seeking out ways to tweak the experiment, to constantly pursue a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.
We need to act like our founders and really look at our system, acknowledge when it’s broken, and find the courage to try to fix it. Again and again and again.
This year on Independence Day, remember that there is always work to do to be a great nation. Start by reading here.
With special thanks to James Madison, Schoolhouse rock and the American citizen – past, present and future.