Towards A More Perfect Union
Posted on July 4, 2014
By all accounts, Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 was uncomfortably hot. And there was no air conditioning.
But the men and women who lived in that colonial metropolis didn’t wear shorts or tank tops. Modesty, custom and lack of any alternatives meant that they donned full colonial gear, despite the heat, which must have put Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin in a particularly cranky mood.
Over 90 towns and municipalities throughout the thirteen colonies had already passed resolutions, some crude, some sophisticated, announcing that they were no longer taking orders from King George.
The document produced by the two future President and one iconic Ambassador was the culmination of those efforts.
It concluded with this paragraph:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Both Jefferson and Franklin were deists, and for them to call on Divine Providence was not only good politics but also a sign of desperation.
Things didn’t look particularly good for the rebels in 1776. They were outmatched, outgunned, out-trained, out-supplied and out-moneyed.
More than five years later, General Cornwallis would be surrendering to General Washington as the British Army band played, “The World Turned Upside Down.”
Divine providence, indeed.
The Founding Fathers would be both proud and astounded at what their creation has turned in to.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” it’s hard to believe that he could have imagined that a future President would be an African-American, or that the Supreme Court could have three women on it, or that America would be the world’s lone superpower.
It was in the Constitution where the Founding Fathers, led by James Madison, wrote this memorable preamble, “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.”
We are still working on that more perfect union. Man is an imperfect being and perfection is not achievable with imperfect humans. The Founders were smart though, and that’s why they created an impossibly complex but strangely effective system of checks and balances, one that can act quickly in times of crisis, but largely grinds to inertia when crisis seems far away.
And I suppose that’s what we want from our government: Act quickly when we need you to act; act slowly when we don’t.
In any event, for the last 238 years, we have celebrated the inspired work of a bunch of hot, angry white men who had the courage to set in motion a series of events that created this great country that we live in today. They weren’t perfect, but they were pretty damn good, just like America.