Nations, like individuals, have birthdays. July 4, 1776 is the date on the birth certificate of America, not 1619. Thomas Jefferson wrote and signed it.
Revolutions change landscapes. They are not won by ideology but by blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no birth. So it was with the birth of America. The bloody war with England culminated in the advent of a Child of Liberty.
Lincoln harked back to the founding tenets of this nation’s birth when writing the Gettysburg Address:
“Four score and seven years ago our Fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
It continues: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Will he smile today on America’s 244th birthday?
His rhetoric stirred the soul of this new nation, even as it stirs our collective soul today. National and world conflicts continue unabated. Blood of our patriots continues to run red on our soil and on foreign shores. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, it’s said. It comes at a terrible cost.
In a sense it might be inferred that America was immaculately conceived by the ethereal Concept of Liberty as its Father, and England as its Mother. Like children, maturity comes in ways both similar and different than their parents.
However, there remains always an atavistic and familial resemblance to both parents. This child, America, embodies similitudes of both ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in its struggle to mature. As we wonder what our own children’s legacy will be, so do we collectively wonder the same of our Republic.
There’s a story about Alexander Graham Bell. He and a friend observed a hot air balloon breaking the gravitational pull of the earth in France. It rose slowly, attained a significant height and drifted over a tree hedge. It plunged in a field where peasants worked. In panic they attacked the balloon with pitch forks. Change often evokes such responses.
The friend commented, “Now, what good was this experiment? It ended in failure.” Dr. Bell replied, “What good is any newborn baby?”
J. G. McGee, an American aviator and poet, penned these stirring words:
“I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced with the sky on laughter and silver wings…”
America, the Child of Liberty, has transcended Magee’s inspiring words and now soars into full maturity.
How can we define our Republic today? Descriptions differ. Some depict it a nation impotent, polarized by politics, our leaders drunk on power, occupying chambers of government where civility and compromise no longer exist and where capitalism and socialism grapple in a mano a mano conflict. Others claim its culture is one of excessive commercialism, the aphrodisiac of entitlement.
Some suggest the pervading pursuit of wealth turns us into herds of demon-possessed swine, rushing headlong into the abyss of debt. Others lament the loss of jobs, trade treaties, and the hangover hegemony of Colonialism inherited from our ‘mother’s’ side of the family. No one fails to mention the insidious cycle of poverty, inequalities and a perpetual welfare underclass. Oh, so many voices.
Others remind us of the technological paradigms that are breaking down the walls of order and status quo. So-called social media has aggregated disparate opinions into a massive force for change. Its fallout includes angry mobs marching in streets protesting injustices and demanding changes. America is constantly birthing yet more children who seek liberty.
Lincoln at Gettysburg looked beyond the carnage of a bloody civil War and envisioned the future of America in a larger context. With words he sought to galvanize our concepts of liberty into a more cohesive and nationalized whole. He wrote:
“…(T)hat this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Can any words inspire more than these?
Of a truth, no nation on this earth has successfully existed into perpetuity. Perhaps it is just a dream. But, dear Children of Freedom, living ‘under God’ is a legacy of freedom worth passing on to future generations. It is a dream worth embracing.
Tennyson wrote these words in his poem, In Memoriam:
“…(T)hat men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.”
Can we rise to the call of ‘higher things’ in the preservation of our glorious heritage?
Happy Birthday America
July 3, 2020