"When in the course of human events..."
So begins one of a handful of documents so crucial to thisnation's history and even existence that every American should understand themand the circumstances surrounding how they came to be.
As you celebrate Independence Day, I urge you to take a moment toremember those men who gathered in Philadelphia 238 years ago to forge a newnation.
Also take a moment to consider whether this nation would haveemerged in 1776 if the caliber of elected officials we had then matchedthe caliber of those we have today.
That body of 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independencecontained such great minds as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and BenjaminFranklin.
Jefferson, who penned the bulk of Declaration, may well have beenthe greatest intellect this nation has known. In 1962, President John F.Kennedy hosted a gathering of Nobel Prize winners. He told them, "I thinkthis is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, thathas ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exceptionof when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. "
But Adams, Franklin and many others among the delegates to theSecond Continental Congress were no slouches as intellectuals, either.
However, it wasn't just their education and intelligence thatwould set them apart from today's national political figures. Perhaps moreimportant was their collective willingness to seek compromise for the commongood, their ability to think for themselves, and their personal courage andsense of sacrifice to act upon their own reasoning and beliefs.
The men who signed the Declaration weren't just risking theirpolitical futures when they mutually pledged "to each other our Lives, ourFortunes and our sacred Honor."
The signers of the Declaration were truly placing their lives andfortunes on the line. By declaring independence from Britain, they knew theyrisked imprisonment and even execution for treason. But even though there werehuge gulfs in their thinking when they first gathered in Philadelphia, theymanaged to hammer out the foundation for a new nation.
Contrast that to today's national political leadership.
Instead of the independent thinkers who signed theDeclaration, far too many in Congress today are content to mindlessly parrotrhetoric from the Left or the Right.
Instead of seeking middle ground for the common good, today'selected officials too often dig in their heels for political gain. Theresult is that progress is stymied on everything from sound fiscal policy toimmigration reform.
Instead of showing courage, too many of today's elected officialsare wimps. The signers of the Declaration knew they could face death orimprisonment; the worst today's politicians could face is the loss of a fewpercentage points in the polls.
Don't take this wrong. I believe there are men and women who thinkfor themselves and with political and personal courage in national electiveoffice today. But not nearly enough of them.
I fear that if the Second Continental Congress had been made up ofthe majority of people of the caliber we have in Washington today, the UnitedStates may never have come to be.
So as you gather with family and friends at the beach or lake oraround the backyard grill to celebrate the Fourth of July, take a moment toremember and thank those 56 men who forged the Declaration of Independence andthe foundation for our great nation. Without their courage and foresight, wemay never have known the freedoms we take for granted today.
(By the way, the seminal documents that I believe every Americanshould know and understand are the Declaration, the preamble to the U.S.Constitution and at least Articles 1-4, the Bill of Rights, and theEmancipation Proclamation and the later 13th Amendment, which together endedslavery in this nation.)
KenHare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial pageeditor who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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