Editorial: Keeping America Together

Editorial: Keeping America Together

On Monday, we celebrate our Independence Day.

It is “America’s birthday,” when the nation recognizes the moment our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing to the world that 13 colonies planned to be free from British rule forevermore. But of course, it did much more than that.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. described it almost 200 years later, the Declaration of Independence was a promissory note to all future generations. It said that all men are created equal, that their rights come from the divine, not the noble, and that whatever government was to be formed by the new nation, it would hold at its core the principle that people are citizens, not subjects — a government by the people, of the people, and for the people.

It has been 246 years since those men signed that piece of parchment in Philadelphia, yet we continue to argue over what the words in that document truly mean and how best to live up to those lofty standards. It’s been hard. In fact, it’s never been easy, not from the very beginning.

The United States of America was by no means guaranteed when the Founders met in Philadelphia. In fact, as they signed the Declaration, the odds seemed very much against the new nation ever coming into being. If one were a betting man or woman in 1770s Colonial America, the wise wager would have been on the best military in the world putting an end to the colonists’ uprising sooner rather than later.

There would be many defeats after the signing — many moments when it seemed the actions of the Founders were destined to be remembered as the rantings of traitors. The war would create Loyalists and Patriots, neighbors and friends who became bitter enemies. Somehow, through it all, a new nation was born.

Almost 90 years later, it looked as if the Founders’ dream of a United States would fail to live long enough to celebrate its 100th birthday. In early July of 1863, the country was in the midst of a horrific Civil War. Thousands had already died. Parts of the country lay in ruin. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army representing the Confederate States of America had made its way north, into Pennsylvania, threatening to expand the war beyond the South. The voices urging an end to the conflict, the acknowledgment of the Confederacy, and the dissolution of the Union that had formed in Philadelphia less than a century prior, grew ever louder.

However, on July 4, 1863, the country suddenly had something new to celebrate. Lee’s army had been turned back at Gettysburg the day before and the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi, had been broken by Union Gen. U.S. Grant after a prolonged siege. Many in the North could sense at the time what would be proven correct over the final two years of the war — July 4 of 1863 was the turning point in restoring the country and ending slavery as an institution.

Why look back now? To remind ourselves that the American experiment has seldom been seamless. It has often teetered on the edge. We have argued, bickered, even warred with each other ever since those first 13 colonies decided to announce to the world that they were free.

It is easy to feel uneasy about America at the moment. There appears to be more that divides rather than binds us as a people, and many seem less willing now than ever before to accept their fellow Americans. But it’s important to remember that times have been much tougher, the disagreements much more heated and the threats to our way of life far more dangerous in the past than they are at the moment.

If we could survive the birth pangs of forming a new nation and the deep wounds of a civil war, we can find a way to survive our current unrest … if we want to.


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