July 4th 1776 marked the birth of a new nation. This new nation would be different from any that had come before and ultimately would become a model for freedom and prosperity the world over. The new nation was founded on individual liberty, personal responsibility, limited government, private property, and the rule of law. These concepts we almost take for granted had never before been so completely ingrained into the very fabric of a nation. No one knew for sure it would even work. For most of the recorded history of city and nation-states, “individual liberty” was rare and not universally accepted as an “inalienable right.”

The Declaration of Independence was bold – courageous – and life-changing for everyone who signed it or agreed with it. It was the beginning of what would become the United States of America. From its beginning the nation wasn’t perfect. The founders were not perfect. They had their own moral flaws, intellectual blind spots, and philosophical baggage from centuries of governmental and religious oppression. The “yearning to be free” was interpreted differently, even among the founders, and led to raucous and sometimes even violent debates. In order to be one nation, compromises were made. Practices that today are considered brutal or evil were tolerated. It was a different time.

And what of this nation – the United States of America? Our own history is checkered with starts and stops, failures and successes, amazing compassion and generosity, stupendous greed and evil. Both the good and the bad are right there for any observer to see. But I see a nation united around an idea – freedom. I see a nation that while imperfect, allows for the citizenry to debate, discuss, reach agreements or compromises, moving forward, improving by what seems sometimes to be the smallest of increments. But it’s a good country, with a good foundation and millions of good people. We will fight it out among ourselves for our visions about what would make us a better country. If attacked from without, we will turn together as one and vigorously defend our freedoms – including our freedom to argue.

Oppression is the enemy. Repression of competing ideas is the enemy’s more-wicked step brother. As we debate we push the country to improve. The debates (particularly the angry ones) can be tiring, but it is through the free expression of ideas that we improve our great country.

And this is a great country by almost any measure. Imperfect? Sure. Just like me. Just like you. I remember the words of Jesus who said “he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Like you I’m disappointed with a lot of what I’ve seen lately. But today on my nation’s birthday, I’m cutting the country some slack. I’ve committed my life to learning and improving. In fact, if I were going to have a headstone I think the inscription I would want would read, “He was getting better at this…” If you will join me in lifelong learning and self-improvement, perhaps we can also make a tiny difference in improving our country. Let’s better ourselves. And in so doing let’s better our nation. 

Happy Independence Day.

Your friend,
Roger Blankenship