Tuesday, July 01, 2008
We, The People
I am always moved when I stop and reflect on the American Revolution. This event in history has come alive for me. I don't just hear the names or see the passage of events as a listing on a timeline in the pages of a book, instead I feel the passion, the self-doubt, and the determination that these merchants and farmers experienced. This was a human experience, one that should be taken out of context of any current debate regarding patriotism, religion, or politics, and instead framed as part of something larger, as a moment in history when a group of people came to a crossroads and chose a path, for better or worse, that would change their lives and shape the lives of a continent.
If the American Revolution hadn't occurred I believe we would still today be a republic. Enlightenment thinking, the onset of industrialism, the geography and nature of emerging capitalism guaranteed that. I also think that the Declaration of Independence would have emerged in some other form in some other place. We often forget the elements that brought about that document. It was part of an evolutionary process. We think of it as a single entity when we should be thinking of it in terms of the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, and writings of such thinkers as Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbs.
Still, the event did occur and so I reflect. I see the humid room where the First Continental Congress came together. I hear the debates that occured, the frustrated shouting of those who identified with the homeland, the equally passionate protestations of those who sought to step into the unknown realm of self-governance. I hear the southern contingent, eager to insure their economic security, making slavery an issue at a time when it surely wasn't ; these were the arguments of the rich and the entitled, concerned mostly with maintaining their wealth and an advantageous social structure. I hear the clashing of personalities. I see Dickenson casting a prejudiced eye at the irritating Adams; I see Franklin, sweltering, uncomfortable, stirring up trouble, often manipulating for the sake of his own vanity. I see Lee, restless, eager to get back to his land, friendly but superficial in his dealings with others. I see Jefferson and Hancock, standing in a corner, exchanging smalltalk.
Some take July 4th, the holiday, and use it to express their nativism, to justify their ideologies, to compete against their neighbor in displays of egoistical pride...me? I reflect on the people and the ideas, appreciating this moment in history with a quiet awe at how moments swirl and coalesce into a nexus point. I then look up and down the corridors of history and appreciate the context and most importantly, the people.
Posted by Stewart Sternberg at 6:00 AM