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A scene that never happened, part of the deification of the Founding Fathers, From http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/trumbull.htm
A scene that never happened, part of the deification of the Founding Fathers, From http://www.ushistory.org/...
The inevitable aphorisms appear like rockets red glare every July 4th. An endless parade of comments, each a variation of, "What the Founding Fathers would have wanted for us ...." The Tea Party looks back at history, as if the Founding Fathers were a council of berobed wise men, in utter agreement on all matters of policy and history, in perpetuity.

Yet, it's not just the tri-corned hats of those astroturfed history manglers turned back at a fun house mirror of history. Of late, sometimes Progressives make the same kinds of mistakes, either looking back with an eye too narrow or too off the mark.

Yet in the rhetoric, a commonality appears. Down with government! Down with tyranny!
We need a page one rewrite of the Constitution. We need 2nd amendment remedies to fight the progressive agenda. We need to take to the streets. It's time to be like the founding fathers, and start a revolution!

Yes, perhaps.

But if we truly want a revolution, to learn from our nation's own history, we would be wise to remember that the the men we so often deify for our political purposes had one very important, often ignored, trait in common.

Each member of the 3rd continental Congress, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, were sent by their state legislators to that Congress.

In other words, the revolutionaries we so often lionize worked from within their system of governance to create change. They chose to form a nation after every other legal outlet and argument had been exhausted.

We're taught about battles in grade school. We learn about the shot heard round the world. We hear stories of Paul Revere's ride, crying out to his fellow countrymen, "to arms! To arms!" We emphasize that George Washington was a general, that the war was Revolutionary, and we remember boldly the Declaration of Independence, with all those signatures. We probably remember John Hancock because his signature was writ so large.

If you're a conservative, you probably hold the words and deeds of the Founding Fathers as sacred, and monolithic. Fully formed, emerged from the deepest of intellects, the principles of American exceptionalism are forged in a sacred blood oath to stand the test of time.

If you're a progressive, you may have a more cynical view, of a group of white property owners, seizing opportunity to forge a government more amenable to their own self-interests (and largely for their own pocket books).

Both perspectives are lacking, especially since both forget a crucial element. Namely, that the Founding Fathers had 4 things in common.
1. They were learned and considered exceptional in some way in their communities
2. They were, for the most part, loyal English citizens who sought a return of rights and sovereignty they felt were denied
3. Opinions varied sometimes wildly between them, with stark contrasts on a variety of lines; these issues included slavery, sovereignty, and the very question of revolution
4. They were each appointed to the task of redress of rights by their respective colonial governments

That last part is the least romantic, but perhaps most critical, point of forgetfulness among Americans. Each Founding Father was both active in their community and their local governments. They were each trusted with the legislative tasks in Philadelphia because of this strong connection to community and government.

This means that, like the founding fathers, our revolution has to start in our communities, and at the ballot box. If we don't win elections, we don't steer government policy. Two years feels like both an epoch and a trifle of time within which to decide a revolution. For some, like John Adams, who by 1774 had already lived under a repressive occupation in Boston and had decided on independence as the only logical course, two years was an eternity. The war between the 13 colonies and Great Britain began in full in 1775. And yet, in early 1776, there were still delegates to the Continental Congress who hoped for reconciliation with Great Britain. The original purpose of the Congress had been to restore the rights and representation of the Englishmen of the colonies to Parliament.  

The founding fathers turned to armed insurrection, one could argue, late in the game. While Boston was under attack, with citizens fighting back against a superior military force, the Founding Fathers deliberated. There were debates, coalitions, and sides. They eventually came to unanimous consent on a few points. Because their lives were in danger, because they were already under attack, and because he volunteered, Colonel George Washington of Virginia would be the General of the unified colonial Continental Army. Because the colonies were already under martial law, and the king refused to hear their grievances, they would form into their own country.

To put it simply, they worked within the system, until their patience was broken by bloodshed let loose on them by their own national government.

There were other revolutions at that time. Most failed in some way or another. Most began outside their governments, often centered around a revolutionary general who seized power in the name of the people. Of the revolutionary generals of the late 18th century, only one, George Washington, gave up power willingly. The rest held power, which led to more bloodshed, failed states, and in some cases even bloodier counter-revolutions.

There were terrible compromises reached to get to that point, not the least of which was the allowance of slavery in the formation of the United States. It was a question compromised to write the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and its successor the United States Constitution.

While we celebrate with bombs bursting in air, playing Paul Revere to the light of fireworks, it's good to remember how much compromise, debate, argument, letters, words, failure, patience, and effort went into the founding of our nation, from those flawed men of the late 18th century.

And perhaps, what we should seek to emulate, are the qualities that helped them shape one of the most successful revolutions of the last 300 years. Namely, the value of working to better their communities, by working from within.

The golden age is never behind you. It's always ahead. And as we forge ahead, it's good to remember something Thomas Paine wrote in his Dissertation on First Principles of Government, published July, 1795.

It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same moment. There never yet was any truth or any principle so irresistibly obvious that all men believed it at once. Time and reason must cooperate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not to destroy.
Happy Birthday you grand old flag. Here's hoping our generation is up to the task of keeping you waving, of keeping the revolutions moving, of always striving to fulfill the promise of the country, and to keep looking forward to make things better.

Originally posted to effdot on Thu Jul 04, 2013 at 08:36 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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