Hope guided our nation from the start

Among the grumbling and grievances that led up to the American Revolution, an idea grew that the colonists shouldn’t just demand respect as British subjects — rather, that they should go it alone as a new nation.

It was a radical notion, and yet it spread rapidly. The Brits couldn’t root it out.

Back in England, it sounded laughable as well as treacherous, but there was something to it. Something was happening, and King George III didn’t know what it was.

The idea of independence made sense for the simplest reason — because Americans, as they were now calling themselves, were an independent folk. Colonists had come here to have more opportunity and freedom than their old countries could provide. And they weren’t just English; they came from many nations. Many resented it when the faraway British king and Parliament tried to boss them around.

Still, it took a long time for the Continental Congress to shift from demanding fairness to declaring independence, and even when it came to that, it faced severe opposition.

Fact was, American colonists had it pretty good. England exerted its authority occasionally, but because it was so far away and because its empire stretched all over the planet, the colonists enjoyed a large degree of benign neglect.

That wasn’t the case a few years later with the French rebels, who had been oppressed into grinding poverty by a flagrantly rich nobility. Likewise for the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutionaries of the 20th century. Their revolutions were born out of desperation.

Ours was born out of hope. Americans of the 18th century had enough freedom, education and prosperity to see how things could be even better.

And they made things better. Our nation’s founding charters, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, were crafted with an exceptional mix of intelligence, idealism, pragmatism, historical perspective and humanism.

Granted, governing the United States has been messy from the get-go, but that was inevitable for two reasons:

1. The nation’s white Founders weren’t willing to change their prevailing views of Native Americans and African Americans.

2. The system the Founders designed relied on compromise, which was never going to be perfect because people fighting for a cause want to win outright. The framers of the U.S. Constitution were wary of tyranny of the majority, so they built in checks and balances such as strong executive and judicial branches, a bifurcated Congress and strong protection of individual rights.

On the downside, these can lead to legislative gridlock and executive overreach, but on the upside, we don’t have dictators or monarchs, as later revolutions produced. Power shifts peacefully from one elected leader to another. The people of this nation continue to live by our system, apparently because we like it. Americans mostly have upheld our Constitution for the 231 years since it was ratified, amending it over time through the prescribed process. We have only had one civil war, which stands as a bloody reminder to solve internal disputes without violence.

Meanwhile, the American model has inspired and changed the world. Even in countries where America is not well liked, people regularly ask Americans, “Can you help me get into the U.S.?” They may not like our leaders or our government’s policies, but they tend to like us as individuals and still believe that this is the “land of opportunity.”

The same hope that has been in America’s DNA from the beginning continues to compel us forward through whatever messes we find our nation in. Everyone knows the U.S. is far from perfect, but on the whole, it’s a wonderful place. We love it, we’re proud of it, and we continue to be amazed by it. Let’s keep it going.


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