Freedom: an idea worth spreading
They didn’t hold TED conferences in the 18th century, though they were no strangers to discussing and spreading great ideas. 237 years ago this week, in Philadelphia, they were tossing around a very big idea. A powder keg of an idea. And on July 4, 1776, they put it on a piece of paper and submitted it to a “candid world,” and America was born.
The idea in our Declaration of Independence was both simple and profound: create an independent nation based on the notion of freedom.
This doesn’t sound so big today; we’ve grown so accustomed to it. But it had never been done before — in the history of the world. It was entirely new territory, and it was very, very dangerous. Because beyond the usual headaches of founding a nation, this also required winning a war against the most powerful country on Earth.
This Thursday we will celebrate America’s independence. Here’s an idea: Let’s read the Declaration of Independence again. All the way through. It can feel tedious when you get to the long list of “abuses and usurpations,” but hang in there. The last line reads: “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.” This may sound quaint, because we don’t talk like that anymore. But make no mistake — these guys weren’t just scratching their names on a document; they were putting their lives on the line.
It’s not as fashionable these days to appreciate the founding of our country, or the men behind it. Turns out they all had flaws, and this seems to get the lion’s share of the attention. It’s too bad. Because through their brilliance and their courage, they bequeathed to us a great gift. One that keeps on giving, provided we don’t squander it.
I hope we think about that as we enjoy the sunshine and barbecue this Thursday. I hope we discuss it, like the founding fathers did, but without the threat of invasion or arrest. This freedom we share is both a blessing and a responsibility. It deserves our appreciation, and our vigilance.