Once I heard a bit of colloquial wisdom that has become a proverb for me:
Better to aim for the stars and drag your feet in the treetops than to aim for the trees and land in the mud.
Where and when I heard this is now lost to my memory, but the lessons thereof continue to bear fruit. The proverb helps persevere through hardship and disappointment because I am committed to something much higher than myself. It helps me remember that setting lofty goals is in itself admirable even if I never reach them. If there is an ideal, a standard, a higher calling that continuously stands before my tired eyes and jaded heart, then I still have a reason to rise above the pettiness and hypocrisy of daily existence and try to make something better of myself and of the world within my reach.
These wise words apply not only to individuals, but to nations. Specifically, to the nation into which I was blessed to be born, and to which I still owe allegiance. The United States of America came into existence when a group of far-sighted, faithful, honorable men – informed and supported by their wise, longsuffering, and industrious wives – determined that there was a better way to move forward as a collective people than the way they had experienced as subjects of an increasingly indifferent and tyrannical king. Our fathers and mothers of 250 years ago identified certain enduring principles as the foundation of the new nation. Good people of faith today should have no argument with those principles:
- That there is a Sovereign Creator who made all human beings (they said “all men,” meaning “all people” according to the language of the day).
- That the Creator made all human beings of equal value in His eyes.
- That the Creator gave all people rights that no one else can ever take away – rights that include life, liberty (personal sovereignty), and the free will to pursue happiness as they themselves define it (whether for good or for ill).
- That these sovereign human beings, made in the image of the Sovereign Creator, establish governments to secure these rights (secure, meaning to protect and defend, not to give and take away).
- That the only just governments are those that govern by consent of the sovereign human beings who, as agents of the Sovereign Creator, have established it.
This is a summary of the principles America’s Founders published to the world in the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Some would say those principles are no longer valid, or that they unmask the lie and hypocrisy of the American story, which has failed miserably in upholding the equality of women, people of color, Native Americans, and less powerful and prosperous nations. Is that so? If it is, should we scrap the Declaration and start all over?
Or is the story of America one of a flawed nation of flawed individuals who never stopped aiming for the stars, no matter how many times their feet brushed the trees? Is that the proper way to consider the abolition of race-based slavery, the emancipation of women, the ongoing effort to correct our abysmal record with the First Nations of this continent, and the open arms with which we still welcome those who come here in the right way so their children may grow up in peace and achieve more than they themselves ever dreamed?
These are questions investigated in The 1776 Report, published by The President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. The Commission’s purpose is to “enable a rising generation to understand the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776 and to strive to form a more perfect Union.” It is a lofty purpose, aimed at nothing less than renewing the national consciousness of this Republic described by Abraham Lincoln as “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the prospect that all men are created equal.”
Perhaps the first question we should ask is this: do we truly want to evaluate objectively the history and principles of this Republic, or do we simply want to reject them out of hand as outdated, backward, and unprogressive? If the former, then The 1776 Report is the place to start. This report is a summary of America’s founding principles and an overview of how those principles have shaped the nation. Whether there will be subsequent reports is as yet uncertain, but what we have in this slim volume is enough to start the conversation.
That is, if there is truly a desire to have an honest conversation about what America is and should be. If we do, then we should read this report carefully, for it not only grasps the intent of the Founders, but investigates how their intent developed over time. The principles they embraced have faced significant challenges, such as slavery, progressivism, fascism, communism, and identity politics. The 1776 Report briefly looks at these challenges with succinct presentations of what they meant and how the Republic dealt with them. To those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the evaluation is encouraging, uplifting, and challenging. Encouraging and uplifting because the Report validates our founding principles, and challenging because it reaffirms the responsibility of every American in each generation to learn and live by these principles. If we do, then the world will be a better place for our children and the children of our neighbors across the globe. If we do not, then the spark of liberty could be extinguished by the shifting winds of tyranny and ignorance.
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The 1776 Report is also available through Hillsdale College at: