Ken Hare In Depth: Today's politicians risk little; those who fo - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Ken Hare In Depth: Today's politicians risk little; those who forged nation risked all

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

"When in the course of human events..."

So begins one of a handful of documents so crucial to this nation's history and even existence that every American should understand them and the circumstances surrounding how they came to be.

As you celebrate Independence Day, I urge you to take a moment to remember those men who gathered in Philadelphia 238 years ago to forge a new nation.

Also take a moment to consider whether this nation would have emerged in 1776 if the caliber of  elected officials we had then matched the caliber of those we have today.

That body of 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence contained such great minds as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Jefferson, who penned the bulk of Declaration, may well have been the greatest intellect this nation has  known. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy hosted a gathering of Nobel Prize winners. He told them, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. "

But Adams, Franklin and many others among the delegates to the Second Continental Congress were no slouches as intellectuals, either.

However, it wasn't just their education and intelligence that would set them apart from today's national political figures. Perhaps more important was their collective willingness to seek compromise for the common good, their ability to think for themselves, and their personal courage and sense of sacrifice to act upon their own reasoning and beliefs.

The men who signed the Declaration weren't just risking their political futures when they mutually pledged "to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

The signers of the Declaration were truly placing their lives and fortunes on the line. By declaring independence from Britain, they knew they risked imprisonment and even execution for treason. But even though there were huge gulfs in their thinking when they first gathered in Philadelphia, they managed to hammer out the foundation for a new nation.

Contrast that to today's national political leadership.

 Instead of the independent thinkers who signed the Declaration, far too many in Congress today are content to mindlessly parrot rhetoric from the Left or the Right.

Instead of seeking middle ground for the common good, today's elected officials too often dig in their heels for political gain. The result is that progress is stymied on everything from sound fiscal policy to immigration reform.

Instead of showing courage, too many of today's elected officials are wimps. The signers of the Declaration knew they could face death or imprisonment; the worst today's politicians could face is the loss of a few percentage points in the polls.

Don't take this wrong. I believe there are men and women who think for themselves and with political and personal courage in national elective office today. But not nearly enough of them.

I fear that if the Second Continental Congress had been made up of the majority of people of the caliber we have in Washington today, the United States may never have come to be.

So as you gather with family and friends at the beach or lake or around the backyard grill to celebrate the Fourth of July, take a moment to remember and thank those 56 men who forged the Declaration of Independence and the foundation for our great nation. Without their courage and foresight, we may never have known the freedoms we take for granted today.

(By the way, the seminal documents that I believe every American should know and understand are the Declaration, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution and at least Articles 1-4, the Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation and the later 13th Amendment, which together ended slavery in this nation.)

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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