“We must all hang together, or, assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Unity. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind on this day, when I think back to how the founding fathers (and mothers) probably felt. It was the only way a revolution would ever work, wasn’t it? If they were fractured it would have been easier to divide and conquer, or to be more accurate, to divide and maintain. Because that’s what they were united against — the status quo.
Can you imagine the vast majority of a population uniting for a common cause, or uniting against a common enemy — today? I’ve seen it on a micro scale, where people in an organization rise up and say, “Enough is enough.” I’ve seen it in family dynamics, where the bad seed is ostracized. I’ve even seen it in churches with excommunication, but those are such small potatoes when compared with what the colonists did in the late 18th century.
That’s just the thing, too — they were colonists. They were supposed to be marionettes controlled by the monarchy — all gain and no downside. But what the monarchy failed to take into consideration was each colonist was an individual, with his/her own hopes and dreams, that each one was a human being who wanted to be treated like a human being. Not like a puppet on a string. And when these “inalienable rights” are taken from any human being, it’s not a small slight.
So, understanding the enormity of the challenge ahead of them, they decided to go ahead anyway. Because Ben Franklin was undoubtedly right. By that point, with the type of opposition they were causing to the British, they were seen as traitors to the crown, and every one of the founding fathers would have been hung as a warning to others who still harbored thoughts of resistance. As the Borg famously said, “Resistance is futile.” So there was no going back once the revolution had begun. It was “liberty or death.”
I think of the secrecy, the subterfuge, the codes used in order to rally together, to get everyone on board, to create not just separation papers, but also a new list of what a new government, a new society, would look like. I think of the gravity of the situation, of the new gray hairs, probably daily, on the heads of those who organized the largest of possible protests.
And they had to be prepared to die. They had to wake up every morning under the threat of not being able to lay their heads down again that night, with the understanding that their actions could carry with them the ultimate consequence. So every day they had to recommit themselves, to understand once more why they were doing it, why it was indeed worth the sacrifice and possible sacrifice. They had to deal with the bloodshed and make their peace with it, because it was a means to an end, the most important end.
The problem is that this was only the beginning. I know they had to focus on getting through, on setting up a way they could live for the next fifty years, and hope that others who came after would bolster their words and actions with many more. They were hopeful their words and laws would be a helpful guide to get the country on its feet, to help it reach toddler stage. But they knew more would be needed when we experienced growing pains. That’s why the amendments to the Constitution were/are so important.
Now, here we are, looking back, after over 200 years of being a nation, at everything that went before, at everyone who decided it was better to hang together. Are we still focused on that sense of unity that caused patriots to dump tea into Boston Harbor, on that sense of unity that drove the militia to unconventional war methods, on that sense of unity that, despite the threat of death on every side, won out and created something phenomenal in its wake?
I worry too many of us have lost sight of what always made this country so dynamic. It wasn’t how high we rose in the world. It was how low we were, how much we stuck together, and how we grew as one, the rose from concrete.
And, on this day, as on all others, I hope we can think of that, instead of our differences.