Today we celebrate the Fourth of July. It is the 243rd birthday of our nation.
While you’re enjoying all of the cookouts, fireworks, and parties, I would like to give you a little food for thought.
There is something that has fallen out of vogue in our politically correct culture — the idea of American exceptionalism.
American exceptionalism is the idea that our country is something special, and what makes America unique and exceptional has roots prior to the founding of the nation.
Many scholars point to the Pilgrims and specifically Puritan leader John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” speech which put forth the idea that a model community could be formed here as the earliest roots of American exceptionalism.
The British colonies in America drew upon the English heritage of Common Law and representative government first established in the Magna Carta and the British Parliament.
Yes, Mr. Jolley, I really was paying attention in class!
Those colonies set up their own legislatures and were given a limited amount of self-rule.
Over time, the colonists came to believe that their local governments were equally as important as Parliament itself.
Arguments over taxation without representation and attempted changes to the colonial governments brought tensions between the colonists and the British government to a boiling point.
When the British army attempted to seize the cache of guns and ammunition stored in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord broke out which set off what would become the American Revolution.
Fast forward to July of 1776, and we have the signing of the Declaration of Independence which is celebrated on the Fourth.
The Declaration was very much an indictment of King George and the British government.
Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece detailed the causes of the American Revolution, the mistreatment of the colonies by the British crown and laid out the reasons for forming a new government:
“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. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
At this time, no other nation on earth operated on the idea of a government of the people instead of kings, emperors and dictators.
The Revolutionary War would continue until 1783, but an exceptional and unique nation had been founded.
The United States was very much an experiment and as such, things did not always go according to plan.
The Articles of Confederation created an ineffective government. They were eventually scrapped, and the Constitution was ratified.
Although people refer to our country as a democracy, it is in fact a republic.
The Founding Fathers had studied the history of governments and were wary of pure democratic rule. Alexander Hamilton said:
“We are now forming a Republican form of government. Real liberty is not found in the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of a dictatorship.”
There have been other republics in history, but ours was exceptional and unique when founded.
There have been changes to our government and nation in the intervening 243 years. Scholars and public opinions disagree on which changes were good and which were bad but that is a topic for a different time.
No institution established by man is going to be perfect as we are imperfect beings.
However, on this Fourth of July, take a moment to reflect on just how blessed you are to live here. The full text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and many other of our founding and formative documents are readily available online.
Our representative republic form of government only works when the populace is informed and educated.
I firmly believe the United States is still an exceptional nation even with all of our flaws. President Reagan said it far better than I can. I’ll close with a quote from his farewell address:
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
Greg King is the Franklin County District 4, Seat A commissioner and a Decherd police sergeant