In one of the last letters of his life, written, his doctor said, with “all the striking characteristics of his vigorous and unfaded intellect,” [Thomas] Jefferson spoke of America’s hard-won freedom from monarchs who used church and state to reign over others, acting as though only kings could draw strength and standing from God. “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man,” he wrote on Saturday, June 24, 1826. “The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”
— Quoted in American Gospel
— By Jon Meacham
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading about American history recently. Thus far, I’ve worked my way through Suicide of the West,by Jonah Goldberg and Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen. I’m currently working on These Truths, by Jill Lapore and American Gospel,by Jon Meacham. I don’t really have much of a head for details, so it helps tremendously to go over the same territory again and again, from different perspectives.
I’ve always had a great love for our country’s ideals; freedom, tolerance, independence and the broad category of what Jefferson called “the rights of man.” What my reading makes abundantly clear, is how hard-won those rights have been. We feel, correctly, that we are living in very divisive times. But the truth is, divisiveness was there at the beginning and has been a factor throughout our history. I don’t know why that comes as a surprise, except that grade school history is too often taught by looking back through rose colored glasses; playing up heroic people and events, and playing down the nitty gritty stuff of what actually transpired.
That stuff is not at all unlike the issues we are currently at odds over; abortion, immigration, the separation of church and state, taxation, the authority of the various arms of government and so on. We are, and have always been, people of strongly held convictions. We wrestle with each other over the best choices to make, and somehow, by the grace of God I believe, we move in fits and starts toward an unknown future we hope will bring a better life for all concerned.
The message, I suppose, is that our times, difficult as they are, are not necessarily more difficult. We have often been at loggerheads in the past. We have often known political division. We have often played zero-sum games with one another. To me, the value of knowing this is that it helps us to gain a larger perspective on the mechanics of progress. So long as we allow ourselves to be divided up into mutually exclusive tribes, we are not likely to make much real and lasting progress at all. The only way to truly move forward is to do so together.
Yours in Grace,
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