America the unique

Oftentimes, in public discourse over current divisive or polarizing issues, comparisons are thrown up with other countries. On matters such as gun crime, or taxation, or health care, it’s easy to present statistics from nations elsewhere and portray the variances as persuasive to the partisan point. Sometimes, in some ways, such contrasts contain some validity.

But the inherent problem in all comparative analysis invokes the old fruit cliché, and its justified invalidation when differences in the subjects compared are too great. Practically put, it’s impossible to ever have an “apples to apples” comparison between the United States and any other nation on earth.

The holiday on next week’s hump day highlights this truth.

There simply is not now and has never been another democratic republic of our geographic size or population or age, self-chartered and self-governed according to the set of principles, morals and social precepts that culminated in our Declaration of Independence.

In addition to America the Beautiful, we are America the Unique.

We’re the third most populous country—and none of the other top 10 remotely resemble us in form of social construct and constitutional governance. That’s primarily because none of them have our history. Indeed, most other countries have histories that run completely at odds with ours regarding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our singularity is not a slam against other nations, but rather a celebration of distinctive national achievement, albeit one that falls short of the ideal in preserving the ideas that delivered it.

Business leaders today see value in employees understanding the corporate core values and “living the mission” of the organization. But if all a CEO did toward that end was host an annual picnic, few would expect much in the way of results.

Those businesses that excel in that regard do much more: They take a practical approach involving multiple communication channels, from posters on the wall and pocket guides, to accountability measures that improve work habits to align with company values.

By the same token, there is supreme value to the republic in our citizens understanding the core values that produced our independence.

The festivities each Fourth of July can commemorate and celebrate our core principles and self-evident truths, but it is not enough to perpetuate them.

Businesses encourage employees to be able to recite a 30-second “elevator speech” about the company. How many Americans can summarize the Revolution so concisely? More alarmingly, how many would misstate the matter entirely?

“What do we mean by the American Revolution?” John Adams wrote in a letter in 1818. “Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and the hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations …

“This radical change,” he said, “in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

But what brought on that change? The piece of paper adopted in Congress on July 4, 1776, wasn’t the spark; it was, as titled, a declaration and explanation.

Many people don’t want to be bothered with “getting into the weeds” of the philosophers and thinkers—some from antiquity—who shaped the founders’ views. Likewise, many employees get annoyed with so much focus on vision, mission and core values, when there’s actual work to be done.

The key in both instances is that knowledge and understanding are critical to performance.

Part of our political polarity today stems from fundamental misunderstandings about the spirit of liberty as conceived in colonial America.

Indeed, it’s impossible to understand how radical our nation’s notion of liberty was without first understanding what it was before to other nations and other civilizations. Without appreciating the longstanding social orders of royalty, nobility and commons, and the traditional relation between law and divine right, it’s difficult to fathom the full attainment of freedom achieved by the American colonists.

Even the word “constitution” conveyed an altogether different meaning in 1760 than it does for us today. Comprehending how that word evolved from its common definition then as describing the entwined existence of a political system to a limiting charter of government power in 1787 is central to grasping American liberty–and its need for fervent protection.

We take the world we live in for granted. Our plenty is an anomaly among the world’s hungry billions; intellectually we might know of starving peoples in faraway places, but it is disconnected from our daily consumption, as evidenced by our sizable BMI statistics.

We take our liberty even more for granted.

There are tens of millions of people trying to reduce their weight, and countless weight-loss programs and speakers and websites and documents to assist them. Were that even half as many people sought to truly understand the radical change in Americans that produced the United States!

Mention Algernon Sidney or Cato’s Letters at your cookout next week and gauge the blank stares. Better yet, commit to yourself to Google them (both were foundational to the Revolution). Even if you only read a little, you and your holiday spirit will be better for it.

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The previous Declaration

“Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great…”

These words probably ring vaguely familiar, with the holiday approaching on which we celebrate our nation’s founding.

However, those sentences aren’t part of the Declaration of Independence.

They come from a previous declaration, issued in a previous July by a previous Continental Congress.

They are found in the July 6, 1775 document titled “Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms.”

This document is a crux that connects two of the most influential distinctions of exceptionalism that would define the American Revolution.

A full year before dissolving the union with Great Britain, the colonists declared themselves left with no option but to meet tyrannical force with force in an attempt to preserve that union.

“Tyranny” is a word rooted in the cruel brutality of antiquity; by the 18th century its meaning was refined philosophically to regard government oppression in the Colonial context.

In 1775 America, the greatest tyranny perpetrated by the British wasn’t standing armies, or corrupt magistrates, or violations of civil rights (though all those and more were indeed grievances against the ministerial governance of the Crown).

The act of tyranny that drove the deepest wedge between Mother Country and Colonies was taxation.

A decade earlier, James Otis had popularized the phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” which had been an Irish complaint for a generation, in response to the first direct tax on the colonists (rather than their trade) via the Stamp Act.

That legislation was ill-advised from the start, but circumstances at its onset seemed logical enough. The English treasury was depleted and awash in debt after the French and Indian War, and British troops in America were costly to maintain.

London had a simple view: with empty coffers to be filled, shilling-signs aplenty glittered from across the pond.

Typical of the aristocratic arrogance bred from centuries of Eurpoean royal reign, the English expectation was blind subservience to confiscation (as duty to King) from the common laborers toiling in the New World.

Nobody, not even the leaders of the various colonies—who had bickered amongst themselves more than with England—could have predicted the ubiquitous protests that flared across America.

In every village, borough, county, township and municipal corner of the colonies, mobs independently organized and planned riotous resistance to the Stamp Act, so that by the date it was supposed to go into effect it had already been nullified.

In light of such developments, parliament wisely repealed the Act, and in doing so inadvertently but innovatively altered the course of the Revolution.

Had England stuck to her guns on the Stamp Act, the fighting war likely would have broke out in 1765, when the initial thoughts and passions surrounding independence were still at a flash point.

It’s noteworthy of the colonial character that, even in time of great property violence and ardent threats and discord in 1765 over the Stamp Act, no loss of life occurred.

No royal official, no rioter, no British soldier, no Stamp Act supporter was killed.

That bloodless rejection of Great Britain’s authority sparked a decade of deliberation and debate, which proved invaluable.

Americans spent the next 10 years exploring and developing ideas about individual rights, natural law and self-government. By the time fighting did break out in 1775, colonial democratic philosophies had matured and galvanized.

Those percolating years provided, in the words of American historian Page Smith, “time for the creation of a remarkably well-articulated set of political principles, and for the training of an unusually gifted group of leaders.”

Both distinguished the colonial rebellion from other revolutions, which grew more radical from start to finish. The French revolution proceeded from Girondists to guillotines; the Russian revolution from Menshevik methodology to Bolshevik massacre of the Czar’s family.

The American revolution ignited with Stamp Act riots, but grew more moderate, culminating in a Continental Congress that was resolved, but cautious rather than reckless.

Ruminating in his retirement, John Adams observed as much in an 1818 letter.

The Revolution was effected before the war commenced,” he wrote. “The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations…

“This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

The 1775 Declaration of Taking Up Arms was hinged to a second extraordinary stroke of favorable fortune, which was the appointment of George Washington as military commander.

The document was the official statement justifying the Congress’ assumption of power over the various colonial armies then skirmishing with the Redcoats.

It was an important act of unity by the colonies, laying the foundation for the independence declaration of the united states. Washington had the document read aloud to his troops.

His wartime experience coupled with his singular leadership skills and dignified demeanor were irreplaceable and indispensable in bringing order and discipline as a fighting force to a rag-tag militia, from which few were trained to command and none to obey.

Our Independence Day celebrates a truly exceptional national origin. Enjoy it!