Right about now, I imagine Thomas Jefferson was sweating a little.
I’m writing this blog four days before July 4th. 244 years ago today, The Declaration of Independence was having the finishing touches put on it, in Philadelphia.
I often wonder if T.J knew he was changing the world with every stroke of his pen. Did he think he was signing a death warrant? Did he think he was writing just another manifesto, in the long history of manifestos, that would simply get crumpled up and thrown away? As a writer, I wonder.
The actual date of the document being finished and signed was July 2nd. But it was read…to the whole world…on July 4th. And everything that followed the reading of it was nothing short of earth shattering for mankind.
We’re in a season of de-construction, here in America. We are dismantling the past to force it to line up with the present. I call it “telescoping.”
It’s the equivalent of comparing your full grown self to your newborn self; destroying all evidence of your infancy to make it reconcile with your adulthood. Any reasonable person knows that nothing works that way.
But yes, when Thomas Jefferson wrote the words, “all men are created equal,” he – at that very moment – owned people who were not considered equal. So, was he lying in word or lying in deed?
Maybe a little bit of both. Or maybe he wasn’t lying at all. Maybe he was writing something aspirational that even he himself had yet to live up to.
All I know is we still, 244 years later, take those words as scripture. People may question the author. But nobody questions the premise. He was right, even though he was wrong.
As a writer, I can tell you that is often the case and sometimes the best you can hope for.
Revolutions are as common as each new generation that spawns them. And revolutionaries often get compared to those famous, white-wigged gentlemen farmers who spoke like aristocrats and dressed like extras in Hamilton.
How many times have I heard in my life, “This is like the Boston Tea Party,” or “This revolt is like the American Revolution”?
But there’s a difference between the American Revolution and any other garden-variety revolution that shows up with a hot-headed leader, shouting grievances through a bull horn. That difference is the words and the declaration.
The Declaration of Independence is what separated the American Revolution from the French Revolution and Haitian Revolution and Serbian Revolution and every revolution since 1776. The words, the promises, the guarantees and the stakes, made the Declaration, and the American Revolution that followed it, the greatest single gift to humanity since the birth of Christ.
Imagine, if you will, those people in CHOP (who are being dismantled as we speak) delivering a document to the White House, that not only separated them once and for all from the United States, but refused anymore help or aid from the United States, in any way. No more power grid. No more cell tower access. No more water and sewer. No more food brought in. No more medical access. No more moving beyond the roadblocks.
Imagine them giving all of that up in exchange for their ideals.
Then, imagine the leaders of that movement pledging their lives and families to its success or failure. If it dies, they die.
Then, imagine them picking up guns and attacking United States military installations in order to solidify their point and win freedom for their cause.
See, until you are willing to do all of that, you’re not anywhere close to what the American Revolution was. If you haven’t yet addressed what, to you, are inalienable rights or what truths you hold self evident, then you’re not staging a revolution. You’re just changing the names at the top of the stationary.
Until your words elevate and inspire and clarify your intentions, you are just standing up to power for the sake of doing it. But that isn’t sustainable.
The Declaration of Independence took a bunch of angry guerrilla fighters and asked them the tough question: are we really doing this or are we not? And if we do it, what are we basing all of this on?
That document is the difference between a passionate movement being joined, and a nation being born. The guarantees it makes, even for people not yet able to participate in it, is what makes it endure all these generations later.
When Martin Luther King Jr. Stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, he said that he come there to “cash an un-cashed check.”
That was the perfect way to describe it. And America has tried to bend and shape and re-form to allow everyone to cash that check.
But the check had to be written first. And it was a check that had never even been attempted to be written in human history, to that point.
When a 35-year-old slave owner from Virginia signed his name at the bottom of it, along with 55 others, it divided the world into two pieces of history: everything that had happened before it and everything that has happened since.
And to this day, we all cash that check every time we stand up for our life or our liberty or simply pursue our own happiness.
We cash that check when we question authority or challenge the statues quo.
We cash that check when chase a dream or dare to attempt something great.
We cash that check when we fight for forgotten or stand up for the least among us.
We cash that check when we assert that we are all created equal and should all be treated as such.
Sooner than later, we may find ourselves in a world purged of marble and stone that celebrates men who lived hundreds of years ago, in complicated times. And we may tear it all down and try to start all over again.
But eventually we will likely find ourselves right back in another revolution for being innocent until proven guilty, for freedom of speech and assembly, for the right to bear arms and self-defense, for the right to remain silent and the right to privacy and the right to a legal defense and the right to vote and the right to question the very government that protects those rights.
The Declaration led to all of that. It still does.
And even if the messenger was flawed, 244 years later, that’s a revolution I can still get behind.
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