Thursday, July 04, 2013

No Day for Downton Abbey

Fellow fans of the Crawleys, forgive me, but in middle age, I fell in love with my country all over again during a tour of England's stately homes. The sight of all that grandeur reserved for a hereditary few to live in mansions at the expense of miserable lives for so many was a reminder of what Jefferson, Adams and the rest resisted translating to America in 1776.

Today, as we celebrate what they gave us--"a republic, if you can keep it" in Benjamin Franklin's words--with flags, parades, fireworks and speeches, it may help to remember he was answering an anxious question at the close of the Constitutional Convention, "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?"

America was not inevitable. As children, we drink in our freedoms like mother's milk and, except on the Fourth of July, may forget what it took, and still takes, to give us such nourishment.

At the age of 81, Franklin told the Convention that "when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views."

In this year of political turmoil, as men and women bring all that and more to the continuing American debate, it may help if we remember how we got here and what we avoided along the way.
As we anguish over government reading of our mail and other affronts to liberty, the debate continues.

“No transition to democracy,” President Obama tells Egypt and the world, “comes without difficulty, but in the end it must stay true to the will of the people.”

Even after 237 years.

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