Yesterday was America’s big birthday bash. We turned 239 years old. While it sounds old when we say it, America is still a youth among the world’s nations. Countries on the European, African and Asian continents have histories reaching back thousands of years. America is not the baby though. The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 gave rise to 15 new countries. The breakup of Yugoslavia around the same time created five more new ones. In 1993 the Czech Republic and Slovakia evolved from what was formerly Czechoslovakia. In fact since 1990, some 43 new countries have appeared on the world scene. (geography.about.com)
The only constant is change, and its winds are blowing. For some the winds are hurricane-gale-force with certain destruction in their wake. On the other end of the spectrum, folks turn their faces into the same winds and feel only a refreshing breeze. For those in the middle, it’s just windy. There is no apparent single breath behind the winds. Rather, gusts are stirring from the four corners. There is no one issue but many. We hold different perceptions, and that’s healthy. But opposing opinions usually involve conflict on the way to hopeful compromise. That struggle through conflict is tough work.
I’ve thought a lot during this week about the Declaration of Independence, our birth certificate, and specifically about those who crafted and drafted it. Fifty-six individuals each with unique ideals, political leanings, religious beliefs and backgrounds all in the same room for two days to hash out the exact words and order for the final document.
I always imagined a group of like-minded men in white wigs and Sunday-go-to-meeting breeches at a friendly gathering munching on cookies and sipping coffee. They amicably discussed our new country, signed the document with flourish then headed home for supper. That’s not at all how it happened.
The times were unsettled and angry. Rioting and mobs were commonplace. War loomed. Those without means shook fists of suspicion at fat government. The wealthy power was polarized as Loyalists to Great Britain or Patriots pushing for revolution and independence from the King.
To this background, 56 men gathered in Philadelphia on a hot, humid July 4th in Independence Hall. It was 1776. Air conditioning was not yet invented. Wigs and coats added to an already less-than-comfortable setting. According to history resource thomaslegion.com, the men ranged in age from 26 to 70. They were fairly equally representative of the colonies, about one-third from each New England, the Middle Colonies and the South. Some were married with families, a few were bachelors. Some had fancy educations from the world’s finest schools while others were self-taught. They held diverse religious beliefs from Episcopalian to Catholic. Some were born into wealth, some earned it and some were from humble beginnings. George Taylor for instance arrived in America as an indentured servant, the only way he could attain Atlantic passage. And Sam Adams’ friends donated money and clothes so he could dress properly and afford expenditures of attending Congressional meetings.
They were leaders all. A hot, stuffy room full of passionate, type-A personalities with ideas of opposite extremes and many in between. Their mission was to reach agreement and determine a course for handling the challenges facing their fledgling government, citizens, and their widely disparate ways of life.
I believe the heat in that room was far more than weather-induced. Tempers flared among them. Irreconcilable differences, righteous anger and incompatibility spawned passionate debate. Alliances were identified. Enemies were established.
One commonality kept them in that room.
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” (Declaration of Independence)
Thankfully, the white wig fashion has never re-emerged. But in other ways, our current times look quite similar to those emotion-charged years surrounding our birthday. There is name-calling, mud-slinging and meanness running rampant. The concept of tolerance is twisted from coexistence of your ideas and mine to “embrace my way or else.”
It’s windy. Things are changing. At 239, America is all grown up now and it’s time we act like. We must or the greater good of our nation all the way to the microcosm of our Denton life.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.” (Declaration of Independence)