Saturday, July 4, 2015

Who Rules?

Philadelphia in summer. Perfect.

I was born in Philadelphia, and lived in suburban Southampton until I was nine. Summers were muggy, buggy and, pre-central air, best lived at a modest pace. July vacations involved driving north, to visit relatives in Michigan, or to camp in Canada. Pool, lakes, trips to Atlantic City - they were refuge from air so thick it had to be chewed before inhaling. In the stuffy confines of the local rec center, a dime would buy a cold bottle of Coke, an exquisite delight to offset the clammy t-shirt clinging to dripping-wet torso.

It could have been no different for the men gathered to discuss independence from England. No box fans to plug in, no AC cooling torsos and temperaments. Among them were the Colony's foremost experts on governance, it's most intemperate firebrands and - let's be honest - it's biggest egos. Their purpose, while seditious and treasonous, was also truly enlightened. Although many of the notions of government the Declaration of Independence stated had been lifted from other documents, it was the first time they had been brought together as the founding principles of a new land. Underlying all of them was a notion unique among the nations then existing.

America's founders did not toil over the question of who would rule. They discussed how the people would determine who governed. The concept is simple, elegant and complicated by everything that makes human beings creative, crass and imperfect. Governments, the Colonials wrote, derive their just powers from the people's consent to it's structures, it's processes and the men and women who occupy the offices. They were no longer subjects of the Crown. They were free citizens of a new nation.

There was one little problem. By signing the parchment, they were agreeing to war against the most powerful military ever assembled. Were there a Las Vegas in 1776 the line surely would have opened heavily favoring the Red Coats. The men affixed their signatures anyway.

Two hundred thirty nine years later we are the descendents, and beneficiaries of their vision. They created a country out of an idea, one that has sustained us in times of plenty, and of desperation. We were built on the notion that a free people are stronger not because we think alike, but because we were free to think as we choose. Our nation began as, and is now, a gift from a generation of inspired thinkers who presented the world with an idea.

Freedom belongs to everyone. Make of it what you can. Preserve it, nurture it. It is a gift you will relinquish only to the future.

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