2011-05-19 / Sam Bari

In the best interests of recognizing our country’s founders

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Last week, Jamestown celebrated Battery Day with a reenactment of the battles between the well-trained British armed forces and the ragtag militia comprised of poorly trained, ill-equipped colonists.

The colonies fought the powerful British Empire in the Revolutionary War so they could claim their independence from the crown and establish a sovereign nation.

The history books generally glorify the courage and heroism of our founding fathers and how they gallantly fought the British in a war they were never expected to win. The country had a meager population of 2.5 million people in 13 colonies, not all of which agreed with secession.

Without doubt, the winning of the Revolutionary War and the celebration of Independence Day on July 4 are well deserved. Nonetheless, I sometimes wonder if we have been lax in educating young students about the significance of the accomplishments of the men who founded this country.

Putting their lives at risk, in the spring of 1776, the Second Continental Congress clandestinely met in Philadelphia. The city had a population of 30,000. By today’s standards, that would be considered a small town of little consequence. It was the largest city in the country at the time. The congress met to draft a document that they named the Declaration of Independence.

The wisdom in that document, written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, is often not given the attention it deserves. Jefferson served on a committee with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman to draft the declaration.

Jefferson wrote, “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.”

This sentence is recognized as one of the best-known sentences in the history of the English language, and the most potent and consequential words in American history. Although the words are indeed well known and potent, the significance is in how they came about.

Jefferson, who composed the sentence containing the words “all men are created equal,” owned slaves, as did other members of the congress. Although hypocritical, he made provisions that contradicted the lifestyle of the day.

These talented men wrote what they knew would be a document that defined the American mindset. They wrote the words that the nation would uphold and defend in perpetuity.

Those words have never been revised or amended. Although they were designed for a country of 2.5 million people, they still hold true for a country of 308 million. The writers had the insight to recognize that the nation needed a statement that defined who we are and what we believe.

Well over two centuries have passed since those words were written, and we are finally on the brink of living up to the potential of their meaning. We’re not there yet, but we’re much closer than we were 50 years ago.

Eleven years after the writing of the Declaration of Independence, when the Continental Congress gathered again, Jefferson and Adams were not present. George Washington presided over a meeting with Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and a host of others to draft the United States Constitution.

Using the Declaration of Independence as a guide, and with input from a number of documents that included a passage from the British Magna Carta of 1215, the constitution was written, rewritten and revised before it was finally ratified. It was put into operation on September 13, 1788. Since, it has been amended 27 times.

The authors had the foresight to realize that it was necessary to write the Constitution so it was flexible enough that it could be interpreted to address unforeseen situations and events. That was their brilliance.

All of the aforementioned exists in any number of history books with much more detail. Nonetheless, we know little about our country’s founders as individuals.

We have no photographs, recordings, videotapes, films or even accurate, documented interviews with any of those men. Other than what they wrote and a few paintings, we don’t know much about them.

We often take the intellect and courage of our country’s forefathers for granted. They carefully crafted, debated and thoroughly scrutinized the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution before making them official. I find it unconscionable that over the years, we have turned their efforts into a system we can’t understand.

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