Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Revolution Declared, Revolution Unfinished

The day was July 2nd, though it is not the day we celebrate. On that day, a document was sent forth to be read everywhere, writ by the hand of Thomas Jefferson, that said that the thirteen British colonies in North America were no longer colonies, but states, and that those states were -- of a necessity viscerally felt -- no longer beholden to the British Empire. In the moment of this document becoming public, all hope of reconciliation with the mother country was consigned to futility, and the states were left to gamble what little they had, that they could, in fact, create the very nation they claimed they would.

We sit with two hundred thirty-six years of hindsight before us, and a checkered, quirky, sometimes nonsensical history behind us. We are at the latest of a series of crossroads, whose origin can be traced to that hot Summer in 1776 and the decisions made by the founders of our nation. Men all, slave-owners some, intellectuals most, these founders put down the blueprint for a nation in the words scrawled across that parchment. It was only a promissory note for a nation, but at least the thought was now on paper and public. It was not a guarantee of anything, only a hope that a nation could be built upon more human and reasonable principles.

Of course, the blueprint was flawed from the start, because these Founding Fathers, though intellectual and progressive for their day, were unwilling to challenge the conventions of their world. They allowed slaves and slavery to be written into the fabric of the nation, which lent a hollow sound to the phrase "all men are created equal." And in that, too, was the further hypocrisy of claiming inalienable rights, then denying those self-same rights to women.

Many of the Founding Fathers knew it was flawed, but they chose expedience and the desire for union over correcting all the wrongs of human society at that time and building a nation cleanly from the start. The native tribes of North America were left out. Slaves remained slaves. Women remained bound to men. In this, the foundation of the United States was shaky, and that weakness would cause crumbling that led time and time again to conflict that was wholly unnecessary. Even with a civil war, the foundation could not be shored up enough to keep the nation from facing the occasional shaking to its core. To this day and even in this century, we hear the creaking of floors, wrench at stuck and  squealing doors, and note the slant and slope of the window frames which keep so many shut.

They knew, these men, that what they started in July of 1776 would not spring fully formed from the earth, nor would it be a perfect union. They felt, rightly or wrongly, that it was more important to get the nation built, get it standing, and that it would be left to future generations to improve upon their workmanship. They were not afflicted with such hubris as to think they had, at a stroke, done so easily what thousands of generations of humans before had not been able to manage. Their belief was that if American citizens were given freedom and liberty, and the tools to maintain them, they could immeasurably improve what was begun.

So we stand here on another July 4th, Independence Day, and we are split. Some among us believe in America that is perfect as she stands, and see every attempt to change her as an affront to the founding. Some see a nation rife with hypocrisy and feel that we are deluding ourselves in thinking we are free. Many just want to live a normal life, and not be drawn into every battle over the meaning of being an American. Whatever your belief, whatever you may think, it is important to know this: this day we celebrate, is the birth date of an idea, a concept, not a full-fledged utopia. The revolution that began with this bold declaration, far from being over with the battle of Yorktown and the passage of the Constitution, would go on. It would go on at every point where people decided that our nation was not quite right yet, where some small matter or large injustice required adjustment.

It goes on even now.

What this day should mean to us, is a re-dedication to the cause that so emboldened the Founding Fathers, the cause of Freedom, Liberty, and Justice For All. We should recognize that what was begun with the reading of those words, "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..." has never truly ended, nor can it. Though the flags are in their cases, the canons silent, the muskets propped up in the chimney corner, and the uniforms packed away, the American Revolution rolls on. Every American who looks at their nation, appreciates all that it gives them in the way of law and liberty, but knows there is more work to be done, especially where such law and liberty are not equitably apportioned to every single one of us. It remains the work of the sons and daughters of the American Revolution, and all who have joined them from shores far and wide, to continue the fight, and never surrender.