Almost 230 years ago, a group of men gathered as part of a convention in Philadelphia and dreamed. What came out of that convention was the United States Constitution. Flawed men (some more flawed than others) produced a document for a nation which did not exist, which could not exist under their current leadership limitations, and could only someday be realized when the United States of America could and would live under the credo that “All men are created equal”.
The Founding Fathers, most of whom had as many character and moral flaws as patriotic and leadership attributes, possessed a vision of the potential in their young nation. They set the groundwork and, most importantly, made the constitution an open-ended document. The created a constitution which could be amended, or added to, as problems arose. For their part, they addressed the pending issues of their time in their first ten amendments, collectively called The Bill of Rights. They allowed for change. They allowed the people of the near and far future to move the country forward as issues, new and unimaginable in 1787, threatened the potential of what the United States of America could be.
We still aren’t there in 2017 as witnessed by the divisions of race, economy, philosophy, and policy. But this is not a complete failure of the dream. It is the fight between moving forward toward the dream and staying firmly planted and looking back. These are the growing pains of a diverse nation that dreams of greater things. Two steps forward and one step back.
The Civil War was the first hammer of change after 1782. It changed the nation. Not completely, not permanently, but it changed who and what the United States was forever. It recreated the shift of the young nation as being a single nation and not a collection of separate entities. Historian Barbara Fields and Shelby Foote perhaps said it best at the opening of the final episode of Ken Burns’ classic documentary, The Civil War.
Dr. Barbara Fields, professor of history at Columbia University, on the American Civil War:
“It is the event in American history in that, it is the moment that made the United States as a nation. And I mean that in different ways. The United States was obviously a nation when it adopted a constitution. But it adopted a constitution that required the war to be sorted out and therefore, require the war to make a real nation out of what was a theoretical nation as it was designed at the Constitutional Convention.”
Author-historian Shelby Foote:
“Before the war, it was said the United States are, grammatically it was spoken that way and thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war, it was always the United States is, as we say today without being self-conscious at all. And that pretty much sums up what the war accomplished. It made us and is.”
In my humble opinion, our responsibility as Americans—the job devised and written into this dream document called the United States Constitution—is to keep pushing toward the goals set by the Founding Fathers. Two steps forward and make sure we fight and scratch and claw to limit any step back to one, preferably short, step backward. We need to push toward an American vision and dream to which we have pledged our allegiance to virtually every day of our lives.
“…one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Let’s be the people the writers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence hoped we would become. Let’s acknowledge our horrific deeds and flaws of our past in order to make this a better place for everyone today. Let’s leave this country today a little closer to the dream for those of tomorrow.
Live the American Dream.
- Hard work
These are the attributes that make America great (as always).