Recent discussions about America's birthday and the shaky underpinnings of our July 4 Independence Day should have made us aware of just how difficult it was for our "founding fathers" to operate effectively. How tenuous and dangerous were the paths they traveled to help get us where we are.
David McCullough, the noted author and historian who has done a number of major works on the likes of John Adams and George Washington, says that three things need to be emphasized in such discussions.
First, a good many of the people involved were "young men" by today's standards, many in their 30s and some in their 40s. They were not yet the wise and established elders we see in so many portraits such as those by Gilbert Stuart. Fortunately, youth was served.
Second, they were fomenting revolution against The Motherland, Great Britain, and the penalty for that treason could have been imprisonment and death if they failed in their quest "to bring forth on this continent a new nation." As was said, they needed to hang together or they almost certainly would hang separately.
Third, people in public life nowadays have guidelines from the likes of these pioneers and are blessed with "history" that helps guide their way to decisions, right or wrong. This last point is vital. These founders of America were, in effect, flying blind. They had freedom and democracy and their handmaidens in mind but had nothing to go on but their own passion, instincts, intellect and limited experience for the field of nation-building.
Time and again, Gen. George Washington was a hair's breadth away from having his Continental Army demolished and his death as a traitor insured. Luck, happenstance, grit, courage and craftiness time and again bailed out the general and his forces. Unsung heroes numbered in the thousands, people who are lost to history but did so much on our behalf.
There was no Constitution, no Bill of Rights, no Supreme Court and many were not even fully aware of the contents of the Declaration of Independence. But they had goals and dreams and persistence and their general approach was that "even if we are defeated, what we are doing is worth doing." This despite the fact the financing for the revolution was weak and any polls, had there been some, would have indicated that at least half the fellow citizens were not in favor of breaking with Britain.
There were no electronics, no instant communication, and transportation facilities were pathetic compared with today's capabilities.
Yet somehow these gallant, dedicated people, men and women, found a way to survive and advance despite the horrendous odds against them. Not only was there the massive challenge of winning a war against the British but the demands of establishing and maintaining a nation after they had gained it. Again, they had no "history" to guide them.
The incredible improbabilities of success of those early Americans and the fact they achieved it despite monumental barriers makes what we have today even more impressive and dear. Who among us would choose to tread the perilous, frustrating routes these people did in the mid-1700s with the modest tools they had at their disposal?