In 1776, Thomas Jefferson penned the single greatest political statement in human history. He said:
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.Declaration of Independence
With that statement, a new nation was declared, independent from England. The United States of America was formed, and with it, the seeds of a great nation were sewn.
Why did America have so much potential for greatness? It was not because it was the richest country in the world. At that time, the economies of England, and many other nations, both European and Asian, dwarfed the economy of the thirteen colonies. It is not because America had the most powerful army. England’s army was larger, better organized, and better armed.
America had the seeds of greatness because it was the only country based on the idea that all men are equal and all men have rights. That, and no other quality, is why America had the seeds of greatness.
I wish that I could say that America was a great country at that time… but it was still in it’s infancy. The very people who had built this country understood that the statements made in the Declaration of Independence were true. They understood that they were important. But they did not truly understand what they meant. They were, in essence, infants, a long way from adulthood. They understood that all men were equal, but they did not understand who ‘all men’ were. They did not understand that ‘all men’ included native Americans. They did not understand that it included blacks. They did not understand that it included women.
Do not misunderstand. I admire Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Madison, and all of the other men who fought, and sacrificed, and died to found this nation. They grew up in a time when blacks and native Americans and women were not included in the phrase ‘all men’. It would be too much to ask these men, or anyone, to throw off all of the errors of past generations in one instant. I look back at them with great sadness for their misunderstandings, but it is coupled with gratefulness for their sacrifice, and respect for the tremendous steps they WERE able to take. We can recognize these men for who they were: imperfect and flawed, and yet noble and striving for greatness. The infant nation they formed was not great… but it was it’s destiny to grow into a great nation.
Growth of a human being takes time. Growth of a nation takes even longer. Over the years, America has grown. In 1865, slavery was finally abolished, almost 100 years after the country was formed. Of course, that was only the first step in a long arduous journey. Laws allowing racial segregation (school segregation, segregation of bathrooms, drinking fountains, bus seats, etc.) were still in place in the 1960’s, another 100 years later. And now, 50 years later, racial issues are still prominant.
Similarly slow growth has been made in protecting the rights of women, native Americans, and ultimately, every minority group.
I will say again. America has the seeds of being a great nation, but it has not, as yet, achieved the greatness that it should. America will be great when, as one people, we can stand united and say:
All individuals are equal. All individuals have rights.
When we can look around us, and see every person as an equal, of possessing and sharing all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilites of a member of this nation, then, and only then, will America be great!
If you desire to make America great, do not look to a president, a governor, or a mayor. Look to yourself. Make sure that you recognize that the people living next to you are your equals, regardless of differences in skin color, gender, political persuasion, or economic status. That, and ONLY that, is the way to make America great.
We cannot make America great AGAIN. It has not yet achieved greatness the first time. We CAN make America great. I will try to do my part, to view others as my equals. Will you do the same?