Viewpoint

True Profiles in Courage

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

 

Richard Johnstone

 

We are all beneficiaries of the audacious gumption and amazing vision of our nation’s founders, who built our republic of solid stuff and, like the soaring cathedrals of medieval Europe, constructed it to last through the ages.

We are all beneficiaries of the audacious gumption and amazing vision of our nation’s founders, who built our republic of solid stuff and, like the soaring cathedrals of medieval Europe, constructed it to last through the ages.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This passage from the Declaration of Independence is pure genius, the first sentence soaring to new heights in its eloquent expression of human rights, the second succinctly noting how they should be obtained: through “the consent of the governed.”

Every year on July 4, we celebrate this Declaration, as the spark that ignited a flame of freedom, hope and justice that still burns brightly nearly 240 years later. As we enter a presidential election year, we should keep this extraordinary passage in our thoughts as we exercise our right to vote. That right was hard-won by our nation’s founders, and has been hard-kept over the centuries by countless brave American men and women.

It’s appropriate, though, to remember how these rights we enjoy first took flight. It began when 56 leading citizens from the 13 original colonies signed and sent this bold Declaration of Independence to the King of England, thereby risking their lives, their wealth, their honor, and everything else, in the cause of liberty for themselves and their fellow colonists. Among this group were seven prominent Virginians — George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton.

The easy route — the simple route, the safe route — for all of these signers, of course, would have been … to do nothing.

And yet, they chose instead to risk all by signing this bold challenge to King George III, this assertion of freedom forever marking their pen strokes as

true profiles in courage. After all, how many of us in the modern age would be willing to risk everything for an untested principle, especially if we were as prominent and well-to-do as most of the Founding Fathers?

In the bittersweet road ballad “Me and Bobby McGee,” Janis Joplin sang that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”; the Founding Fathers, on the other hand, had plenty left to lose, yet still put their lives on the line. If it seems difficult for us today to understand such extraordinary mettle, it’s at least partly because we spend our days navigating through a steady shower of cyber news and social media posts that drench us with stories confusing celebrity with heroism, athletic skill with courage, inconvenience with sacrifice.

We are all beneficiaries of the audacious gumption and amazing vision of our nation’s founders, who built our republic of solid stuff and, like the soaring cathedrals of medieval Europe, constructed it to last through the ages.

And as the passage above from the Declaration of Independence makes clear, governments are the instrument of the people, not the reverse, and are created as a way for us to secure our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Establishing these rights, and maintaining them, is the responsibility of the people, of all of us.

Our nation’s founders created a masterpiece of political functionality, a near-perfect governmental system that’s precisely balanced to correct the injustices of imperfect people, ensuring rule by the majority while protecting the rights of those in the minority. Nothing before or since has come close to matching our republic’s functional elegance, this invention of wonderful utility and wondrous design.

And with few exceptions, this system has provided us with over 225 years’ worth of free elections and peaceful transfers of power, from George Washington to Barack Obama, featuring political parties ranging from Democratic Republicans to Whigs, Democrats, Republicans and Independents from all points on the political spectrum.

In this month’s issue, you’ll find our annual Virginia State Legislative Guide. In it are photos and contact information on the 140 members of the General Assembly, plus the three statewide officeholders, Governor McAuliffe, Lieutenant Governor Northam, and Attorney General Herring.

The General Assembly begins its deliberations on Jan. 13. We heartily encourage you to use our guide to stay in touch with legislators on the issues important to you and your family.

By doing so, you’ll be paying homage in a small but significant way to the sacrifices and the vision of this nation’s remarkable founders.

 

 

 

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