This morning I saw a video on the news in which a man quizzed people on the street on their knowledge of American Independence. Needless to say, the findings were nauseating.
Of course, the video was likely edited to reveal the most embarrassing knowledge gaps–the ones who couldn’t name any founding fathers, the ones who didn’t know the year Independence was declared, the ones who couldn’t name the country from which we declared ourselves independent. But the concern remains that no American should deny themselves the heritage we’ve shared for 240 years.
We are part of a grand legacy—a beautiful and ongoing experiment that has lasted far beyond even the founding fathers’ hopes, but nevertheless still requires nurturing and stewardship.
Part of this stewardship requires recalling legitimate reasons to hope in both our history and our future. Gosh. Even saying that in such a cynical and disquieting time feels ridiculous. But what better time than this Independence weekend to pause and take stock? What have we as Americans to be thankful for?
I turn, as I annually, to do the films I watch approaching July 4th: the John Adams mini series and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The John Adams Independence episode makes painfully vivid the risk involved in committing treasonous acts against the crown for the sake of principles. I so dearly appreciate the gravity with which the series treats the conflict, as we so often undermine the threats the first Americans faced in light of their subsequent success and the United States’ eventual rise to global power. But this series takes us back to the time when nothing was certain, when a handful of people were tasked with leading a disparate population away from the familiarity of monarchy toward untested wisp of an idea of a future wherein authority would only be granted by consent of the governed, where no individual would be exempt from justice, and where human rights were inalienable; a government of laws, not men. No one knew how to realize this dream (it took a couple tries, if you remember). But it was and remains a beautiful dream, and this clip from John Adams pieces together many sentiments extracted from the real John Adams’ speeches and letters into a single speech defending the cause:
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington paints a similar picture of a war against tyranny but this time a 20th Century form of tyranny wherein individuals are attempting to undermine the system for personal gain. The whole movie is a beautiful reminder of America’s perpetual struggle against abuse of power in defense of liberty, as well as a boon to our love of underdogs.
WARNING: This clip features pieces of the climactic end scene of Mr. Smith. PLEASE…if you have no yet seen this movie in its entirety, stop and go watch the whole thing RIGHT NOW. Seriously, it’s one of the best films ever made, and I will not be responsible for screwing that up for you. You’re welcome.