Liberty's legacy: Centuries later, our democracy has survived

July 3, 2013 


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The historians of this day who take us back to the years before 1775-76 and thereafter make it clear that the violent and bloody struggle that formally began following July 4, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence was far from a certain victory. In fact, for all the greatness displayed by George Washington and his generals, unpredictable and unexpected good fortune – some call it divine intervention; others call it fate – played a key role in the colonies’ ultimate victory over the crown of England.

Today, when America enters conflict, we know that a price will be paid and that debate will ensue over the wisdom of whether an intervention was wise, whether it was the Gulf War or Afghanistan or Iraq. But we assume, we Americans, that our side will win. (The definition of victory may be thereafter debated.)

But from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown and all the battles in between, the independence we celebrate today was far from a forgone conclusion through victories and defeats. Sometimes, a break in the weather made a difference. Other times, Washington or one of his generals would make a tactical decision that worked out, but perhaps just by chance.

In the end, though, victory was ours, and this battered, bruised and often contentious democracy has survived for 237 years.

It must have great weatherproofing. In that time, America has overcome internal political disputes that early on erupted in violence and later produced an ample number of demagogues. It has been led by the great such as Washington and Lincoln and the not-so-great who were ill-served (as was the country) by rascals who roamed the White House. Political division has oft threatened to rip the country apart, and 153 years ago, the country did come apart over slavery and other regional divisions between North and South.

But America has survived, and Americans have survived as well, with their faith in country intact even as they are divided over how that country should be run.

Since last July 4, we have seen a founding city, Boston, beset by bombers and a “leaker” named Edward Snowden apparently taking refuge in Russia. But the United States will overcome these things and look to a future past the Snowdens and his kind and past the gripping tragedy of death on marathon day in Boston. When such attacks come, whether they have a few casualties or thousands such as on Sept. 11, 2001, America is unified in mourning, but also in determination.

When the Snowdens appear, curious people with seemingly undefined aims in their actions, Americans put confidence in the leaders of their democracy, and it does belong to them, to root out the cause and to root out the rascals.

For this land of the free and home of the brave understands that to be free, and to remain free, an individual and a country have to be brave sometimes, brave in the certainty that no matter the challenge, this one nation will survive.

Today, we gather in backyards, in parks, with our families by riverbanks, at parades and under the canopy of darkness splattered by fireworks to reaffirm our belief in our country. We sing songs about it, offer prayers and poems about it, raise our flags and honor our troops still lingering in lands far from home. Hands and hats over hearts, if you please. Maestro, strike it up: God bless America!

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