I also spent most of Independence Day re-watching the HBO/Tom Hanks produced miniseries “John Adams” which ran all seven episodes back to back. I was once again struck by the reality of those times in our nation’s founding history of just how fragmented and political the founding fathers were. The series captured just how difficult it was to get this nation on its feet with most of that difficulty resulting not from the British, but from the differing opinions and ideas held by those early Continental leaders whom we now lovingly refer to as the great Founders.
The gap between some of our greatest leaders on issues of independence, slavery, taxation, individual rights, religious expression and so forth was so wide at times that it led to fist fights, lifelong hatred and even a duel or two. These early founders were no pansy-waists when it came to getting their voices heard and words put down on paper for posterity.
After watching again the series I made my way to the computer to refresh myself again with many of the writings of these early national fathers. The Federalist Papers, the memories of John Adams, the personal notes of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr and I was reminded that this nation has always been a political one in which unity has been far more absent then present and one in which unitarian ideals were forged only with the greatest of conflagration and conflict. The art of compromise, it would seem, has never been an easy road for those We the People choose to represent us. Which is a perfect reflection of We the People because as much as we may not like to admit it, We the People do not easily compromise on any of our strongly held opinions, ideas or beliefs. That has never been more pronounced then today.
Our forefathers, and mothers, struggled with the same issues we continue to struggle with today. Just the names, faces and nationalities have changed. They fought over immigration even 236 years ago. There was a time when many in the nation’s center, which was Philadelphia at the time, wanted to round up every French inhabitant, whether citizen or not, and either ship them back to France or keep them incarcerated until a treaty or all out war was engaged with France. In the 20th Century we faced the same issue with Japanese citizens and visitors after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Our solution in the modern age was not as humane as those in the early days of our nation. Where George Washington and John Adams fought against deportation and imprisonment, Franklin D. Roosevelt succumbed to fear and hatred and allowed an entire segment of our citizenry to be housed in concentration camps or shipped back to Japan. If some in those early days would have had their way, the same would have occurred to those of French descent living in America at the time. Today we are faced with the same challenge of immigration and it is yet too early to know how we shall deport ourselves as we meet it. In 200 years how will those living look back at us and will we be viewed as a Washington and Adams or a Roosevelt? Only time will tell.
The early fathers fought over the need for a national army versus State run militias. Many, including Adams, felt there was a great danger in having a national military presence. But, eventually, as this nation grew and expanded its borders after the Louisiana Purchase under President Thomas Jefferson, the task of protecting the borders of this nation became too much for independent militias and the need for a national army and naval forces became self evident. From that moment on the battle over military appropriations has been one of the most fought over issues. Nothing has changed as that battle is still waged today.
As I re-read the documents, viewed impressively at the misguided and non-historical art of the day, refreshed my memory of what it was truly like in this nation from its founding, I was actually given renewed hope in the future of our great country. We have never been a nation sewn together from whole cloth. America has always been a tapestry of color, ideas, ideals, beliefs, hopes and dreams. Yet amongst all this diversity we somehow, especially in the most troubling of times, found a way to unite and balance out the scales in such a way that we have been able to hold true to the better parts of our founder’s natures as expressed in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. It remains my hope that those better angels of our existence still guide us today and we will, once again, rise to the occasion during these most recent troubling days of our nation.