July 4, 2013


Bold Men in Ruffled Shirts (DAVID McCULLOUGH, July 4, 2002, NY Times)
When we see them in paintings, with their ruffled shirts and powdered hair, they look a little like fops, softies. But life then, at best, was tougher than we know, and they were, too, and the women no less than the men. John Adams predicted a long, costly struggle. "I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain their Declaration," he told Abigail. "Yet through the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see the end is more than worth all the means."

It's common enough for the Right in general and cultural conservatives in particular to bemoan the creeping statism of our age and the corrosive effects of moral relativism. The recent asinine ruling on the Pledge seems Heaven sent for a rip-roaring denunciation of a nation on the road to Sodom. But we tend to forget that the Founders were men much like us, men who worshipped freedom but who did not truly expect it to last. The Constitution, with its careful system of checks and balances, amply demonstrates the low estimation in which they held the species.

Yet, we our independence survives. We are less free than we should be, in some ways less free than they were, but we are nonetheless as free as any people on Earth. And we are free in ways--mostly economic--that their fellow countrymen were not.

Our society is less good in too many ways than theirs was--chiefly in the lapse of our moral standards and the loss of the sense of honor that they held so dear. But it is infinitely better in many too--if for no other reason than that their words "All Men", now truly apply to all men, no matter their race, creed, or color and to women as well.

Our generation is less tough than theirs, but our lives have been less tough--in good measure thanks to them. And when called upon, as in the wake of 9-11, we certainly seem to contain the same moral and spiritual toughness in some untapped reserve. Who's to say that we would not rise to as great a cause as theirs was with equal valor and maybe even establish as enduring a legacy.

One suspects that if Adams could see this far he'd not be too displeased with what he saw. No doubt he'd rage against our dependence on government and our abdication of moral responsibility for our own actions, but mightn't he also marvel at what we've made of America in material terms, the wealth and power we've accrued. No doubt he'd mourn the racial tension that remains a disturbing facet of our society, but surely he'd marvel at a Colin Powell, a Condeleeza Rice, an Alberto Gonzales, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and think that there's hope for us still.

Most of all, one supposes that he'd look at the worst of our blemishes--from a $2 Trillion government to divorce to abortion to euthanasia and so on--and see that, however unpleasant to behold, they are products of our free choice. He'd surely not be surprised that that which is worst in us, like that which is best, comes to the surface when we are free. But we are in fact free and that is no small thing. It is a freedom that we should use better, to make a truly good society, but it may be that we never will. It may be that, being merely men, this is the best we can do--though I hope not. Still, if that is the case, then we have in fact done our best. The light we cast may not quite be ravishing, but surely the light he glimpsed came from this almost-shining city on a hill, and surely this "end" justifies the means that he and his fellow patriots were called upon to employ and to endure. And surely, he'd remind us that we are not at an end, are instead in the midst of becoming the America he envisioned, but are well on our way if we only have the courage to make ourselves that nation.

And even if that's all a load of hooey, perhaps he'd consider the sacrifices that they made to be worthwhile just because nearly 230 years later there are almost 300 million Americans who fiercely believe, even if they agree on little else, 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...

Maybe just that much is enough. Maybe it's quite a bit.

God Bless America. And God Bless you and yours on this Independence Day and every day. [originally posted: July 4, 2002]
Posted by at July 4, 2013 12:28 AM

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