The United States of America turned 236 years old last Wednesday. That is quite an accomplishment for a republic that the monarchs of 18th Century Europe predicted would not last even a generation. But then, the conventional wisdom of the 18th Century failed to take into account just who these Americans were. Those who left the safety and security of England and Europe in search of a better life in the comparative wilderness of the American colonies were the rugged individualists, risk takers and dreamers who were willing to face illness, the elements, and even death, itself, to forge a better life for themselves and their families. They came for many reasons -- some for freedom to worship their Creator according their consciences, some to find wealth, some to escape the past and start anew, and some in search of adventure -- but, no matter the purpose that drove them, the one quality these men and women shared was the confidence that they could accomplish what they set out to do and they were willing to do what needed to be done to make their dreams come true. It may have been the allure of freedom and opportunity that drew them to the new world, but it was their own determination, faith and industriousness that made it possible for them to stay and to flourish.
By the mid-1700s, America was a patchwork of planters, farmers, merchants, tavern keepers, shop owners, tailors, carpenters and skilled workmen. In America, it was the equality of opportunity to achieve success through one's effort, character and hard work, rather than through privilege accorded by birth right, social status and title, that was laying the foundation for what would come to be known as the American Dream. In spite of their colonial status, these Americans were actively involved in international commerce and they enjoyed the highest per capita income and the lowest taxes in the western world at that time. The seat of British government power was over 3,000 miles away, and the efforts of colonial government were largely restricted to the functions of national defense, enforcement of the rule of law and facilitation of trade. It was not until the British government began raising taxes, restricting commerce, abusing its police powers and infringing on individual liberty that the colonists ultimately turned against the British crown.
When the guns of the Revolutionary War had finally fallen silent and America had won her freedom, the monumental task of establishing a government for our new nation fell on the shoulders of an amazing collection of 55 men representing the best and brightest from among the original colonies. They were ambitious men who shared a common vision for the new nation that their blood, sweat and tears had helped to forge. They were also determined to devise a system of democratic government that would endure through the ages, to preserve for future generations of Americans as yet unborn, the sweet blessings of freedom that they, and many other Americans, had sacrificed so much to obtain. Our Founders knew well the insidious nature of tyranny from the experience of England's civil war just 125 years prior, when the British people saw their government transition from tyranny by a monarch, to tyranny by a parliament with unchecked executive and legislative powers, and then to tyranny by a despot in the person of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector. This is precisely what the Founders were determined that America should avoid.
Although the 55 men who attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 were united in purpose, it took them four months to craft an acceptable draft of the United States Constitution and then nearly another year until the Constitution was ratified by the requisite 9 of the original 13 colonies. Even this lengthy process would likely have failed had it not been for assurances by James Madison that, in exchange for ratification, the Bill of Rights would be added as amendments to the new Constitution, further protecting our basic freedoms.
The structure of the new American government that emerged from Philadelphia in the fall of 1787 was not one designed for efficiency or speed. The Founders purposefully chose to create a republic in which political power was diffused not only between a national government and multiple state governments, but also within the national government itself, between three separate but co-equal branches, each possessing specific authorities not duplicated in any other branch. Since the Founders were not unintelligent men, they understood that there were more efficient forms of government they could have selected; but their unique insight into human nature being what it was, they selected a form of government that requires deliberation, consensus and compromise. This not only insures against excessive power falling into the hands of any single branch or person, but it also protects the minority from oppression by the majority by reducing the likelihood that important decisions will be made rashly in the heat of passion and by ensuring consideration of all sides of an issue by debate and discourse.
Today, there are those who complain that Congress is inefficient and cannot get anything done; and to the extent that the two chambers of the Congress are divided between Republicans and Democrats, these voices are correct. But the more important point is that Congress is divided precisely because the American people are divided. This division centers on the fundamental question of the proper role of the federal government in the life of every American citizen, not just today but for generations to come. Some Americans have been seduced by the illusory promise of economic security they believe will come with expanded government and expanded public entitlement programs. In exchange for this security, they are willing to pay the price of higher taxes, a lower standard of living and fewer individual liberties. Other Americans believe that it is the ingenuity and industriousness of the American people, empowered by the opportunities available only through the free market and girded by the protections found in the United States Constitution that represent the true path to prosperity and the real basis of lasting economic security.
Thanks to Obamacare, the debate about the proper role of the federal government in American life will soon take center stage. I welcome this debate because it is a debate we, as a nation need to have in order to develop the consensus necessary to move forward with unity of national purpose. I also welcome this debate because I know history has shown that smaller government, lower taxes and less government regulation result in a stronger economy. It worked for the American colonists in the 18th Century, it worked when President John Kennedy proposed it in the 1960s, it worked when President Ronald Reagan implemented it in the 1980s, and it will work again for us today. After all, it was the American people, not the American government, who forged this nation and made it great.
The freedom and opportunity we posses as Americans today were purchased and preserved at great price by prior generations of valiant Americans who answered the clarion call of liberty. Their sacrifice rendered unto us a solemn duty to ensure that the freedom we received -- through no merit or exertion of our own -- is passed on to the next generation of Americans. It now falls to our generation to keep lit the beacon that illuminates this shining city on a hill that is America. We must decide as a nation whether we will exert the effort necessary to keep that beacon shining brightly to the world or stand by and watch it flicker and die while we trade our liberty for some temporary security. As for me, I say, let freedom reign!