By Dave Smith, Senior Contributor, USDR.
“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…” – Thomas Jefferson
Wednesday marks the 242nd birthday of what Alexis de Tocqueville – a Frenchman(!) – called a “grand experiment”. While Jefferson’s words sparked a Revolutionary War that took another 2617 days to win, the result was the first nation founded on the basis of Enlightenment-era principles, rather than geography, religion, or monarchy. The idea that we are citizens of a republic rather than subjects to a crown was indeed grand, experimental, and radical.
Yet when real crisis arises, we see what happens. As a Houstonian, I saw first-hand how people pull together to help their neighbors, without asking or caring whether their blankets are red or blue.
Historically, a hallmark of revolutions is that the winners “eat their own”: the various factions, once gaining power and no longer united against a common enemy, start fighting amongst themselves. There certainly was much disagreement among the Founding Fathers about the direction the new nation should take, but what made the American experiment unique was that the fighting remained rhetorical instead of violently cannibalistic. No guillotines were involved, no opponents exiled.
Rather, a series of grand compromises – over the relationship between the federal and state governments, the separation of powers among the branches of government, large states versus smaller states, and, sadly, over slavery – led to a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that established what Lincoln famously called “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Since that time, there have been ebbs and flows, lowlights and highlights, war and peace, adversity and triumph. The US became a haven for immigrants, a beacon of hope, a land of opportunity, and a “Shining City on a Hill”. As a result, we expanded “from sea to shining sea”. No nation is perfect, and we still strive today to live up to that conception in Liberty. Yet along the way, the United States became the world superpower – a distinction that rarely existed prior to the post-World War II ascension of the US.
Economically, we still remain one of the world’s most prosperous economies by any objective metric, and even beyond the empirical data, the US exerts enormous influence on the world economy. Militarily, it’s not even close: we have the most powerful military in the history of the world, and our commitment to maintaining that superiority is solid.
There certainly was much disagreement among the Founding Fathers about the direction the new nation should take, but what made the American experiment unique was that the fighting remained rhetorical instead of violently cannibalistic. No guillotines were involved, no opponents exiled.
It is true that this is a time of division and scorn. Political opponents are being demonized rather than debated, reviled rather than rebutted. Neighbors are protesting neighbors, and people are denied a seat at the table. The words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” mean different things to different people, and in this moment those differences seem to loom large.
Yet when real crisis arises, we see what happens. As a Houstonian, I saw first-hand how people pull together to help their neighbors, without asking or caring whether their blankets are red or blue. We saw generosity beyond any expectation. We witnessed people like the Cajun Navy come to the rescue of people they’d never met.
In difficult times, it can seem like the idea of America is falling. But time and again – from the Founding, to the Civil War, to the Greatest Generation, to the end of Jim Crow, to the fall of the Soviet empire, we have shown that when the moment changes, so can we.
Happy Birthday, America. May the Grand Experiment continue.
Born in the same county as Davy Crockett in East Tennessee, Dave found his way to Texas where he works in the petrochemical industry. He’s written and spoken about politics on various media outlets including Fox, ABC, and Townhall. He is a graduate of Tennessee Tech with a degree in chemical engineering. Follow Dave on Twitter: @semperlibertas.