Today as we celebrate our nation’s 238th birthday, our attention naturally turns to the Founding Fathers, those great patriots who fashioned this unique republic.
As we reflect, we realize that we remain indebted to the extraordinarily gifted men who gathered there in Philadelphia and like to think that we would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them in that moment of the nation’s birth.
It is an easy thing for us to imagine, mainly because we benefit from our ability to read the book backward. Knowing the outcome naturally mitigates any uncertainties.
But it is important to note that men like Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin and Washington enjoyed no such advantage. Certainly, there was no guarantee of success; in fact, conventional wisdom argued powerfully that these men would more likely die as traitors and live in infamy than be immortalized as patriots.
They must have known it, too. Each of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence must surely have recognized that they might well be signing their own death warrants. As Franklin wryly noted, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
The cause for which these men staked their lives was hardly a settled matter in the hearts of many of their fellow colonists. Even among the delegates to the Continental Congress there were those who felt open rebellion was an extreme position and reckless course of action.
Still, there are few of us today who would admit to any such misgivings. We like to believe that we would have the courage of those who led the Revolution and risked all in doing so.
In their defining hour, the Founding Fathers drew on a reservoir of courage, conviction, wisdom and genius to form a new kind of nation, a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
We are heirs of those brave men, but how do we honor so noble a legacy?
Aside from our military, men and women who stand ready to sacrifice all in the defense of our nation, little is required of the rest of us. Yet even though little is demanded of us, we often fail to meet those few requirements.
It is easy enough to wrap ourselves in flags purchased by the blood of others. We think nothing of calling ourselves “patriots.”
We say we would have been among those who answered the call at Lexington and Concorde, yet when called to the voting booth, we are strangely absent. When we fail to answer the call to community service through church, civic or community organizations and when we fail to inform ourselves on the issues that confront our community and do not add our voices to the marketplace of ideas, can we honestly claim for ourselves the title of patriot?
When city council, board of supervisors and school board meetings are held in mostly empty rooms, where are all the patriots?
Yes, Independence Day is a day for reflection.
But it should also be cause for introspection.
Our Founding Fathers risked all in building our nation and rivers of blood have been shed to preserve it.
The question for us all: Are we worthy?
As we consider this, let us be resolved to play our small, but important role in sustaining our great nation.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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