Never Apologize For Loving America

Never apologize for being American.

“Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

— Richard Henry Lee. “Lee Resolution” (motion made on June 7, adopted on July 2, declared on July 4, 1776)

Our Declaration of Independence — which we celebrate on the Fourth of July — was the elder sibling of three very distinct documents:

  1. The Virginia Resolution of 15 May 1776
  2. The Lee Resolution of Independence of 07 June 1776
  3. The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 12 June 1776.

The Virginia Resolution was most likely the work of Patrick Henry refined by men such as George Mason, though it was clearly instigated both by King George III’s obtuse reply to John Dickenson’s “humble plea” in response to Parliament and Governor Dunmore’s ham-fisted effort to bring Virginia’s House of Burgesses to heel.

It is not a terribly long statement of principles, but for the Dominion of Virginia (unlike its mere sister colonies) it is our actual Declaration of Independence from Great Britain:

Forasmuch as all the endeavours of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the King and Parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British Government, and a reunion with that people upon just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive Administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction:-By a late act all these Colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British Crown, our properties subjected to confiscation, our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countermen, and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just; fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes; the King’s representative in this Colony bath not only withheld all the powers of Government from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us, tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the Crown and Government of Great Britain, uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence, and forming alliances with foreign Powers for commerce and aid in war:-Wherefore, appealing to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of former declarations expressing our desire to preserve the connection with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal law of self-preservation:

Resolved, unanimously, That the Delegates appointed to represent this Colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this Colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies, at such time and in the manner as to them shall seem best: Provided, That the power of forming Government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each Colony, be left to the respective Colonial Legislatures.

Resolved, unanimously, That a Committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration of Rights, and such a plan of Government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this Colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.

If you want to know why it took Thomas Jefferson so long to do his homework, it is because he was waiting for George Mason as head of this committee to produce his Declaration of Rights.

One will note as well that the Continental Congress did not move until Virginia moved. Moreover, that for the next 50 years it would be Virginia’s leadership, material, connections, ideas, concepts, innovations, and so forth that would lead the new nation from Confederation to Independence to Constitution and the Federal Era.

It is a running joke among those of us at the University of Virginia — particularly those of us who involved themselves with the UVA Honor Committee — that Thomas Jefferson would have been rightly charged with an honor violation in writing the Declaration of Independence. For good reason, too. The Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason mirrors the Declaration of Independence for more than a few reasons: Virginia would lead the way, America would be a wholly Virginian experiment in self-government, and the new confederation of states would be informed by those principles and none other — and certainly not by the puritanical New Englanders who, though they had borne the brunt of British intransigence, were not enough in and of themselves to spur their sister colonies into action.

Only Virginia could do that.

And did.

This week might be a good moment to recalibrate from the previous month, to understand why we are here and what our forefathers meant to give posterity — not a utopia, but a framework where a more perfect Union could be forged, discussed, debated, and arrived at through a deliberative form of governance meant to engage the whole of our political society.

Of course, it is important to remember that the American experiment is indeed an experiment. There is nothing written in the universe that America should endure forever. Our brief 250-year presence on this continent is overlapped by Virginia’s 400-year presence — but in the grand scheme of recorded history, the United States is a fraction of a moment; barely 2% of recorded history has known an American definition of liberty.

Are we losing it to the mob whose only maxim is “until we get what we want”? Perhaps so… but for those of us who understand the stakes, refusing to surrender to those appetites will be the great task of the next 50 years.

I’ve often made the remark that Governor Jefferson was closer to the constituents who voted him into office than your average federal representative is today. Once Virginia had as many as 240 state delegates for a commonwealth with just over 1 million Virginians. Today’s Fairfax County has a similar population of 1.15 million and has just 11 supervisors distributing a budget of just under $4.8 billion dollars. We have increased the franchise of voters to include minorities, women, and shockingly enough even non-citizens. What we have failed to do is increase the number of representatives who actually participate in the excavation of the laws.

The Jeffersonian spirit of America might suggest that restoring this connection between citizens and their government as something more than an abstraction might help rebuild civic and civil society. Or make things much worse given the tenor and maturity of most political discourse at just about every level of government. Then again, no one ever chose wrong by betting on America.

Therein lies the lesson.

For all the griping and complaining we might do about our neighbors and that conspicuous “they” that seems to tell us what to do, how to live, what to believe and how to act — the simple fact remains that most Americans would rather trust our neighbors more than any far-off paper pusher, whether from London or Washington or even Richmond. Americans just set off more ordinance in a day than what was expended during the entirety of the War for Independence.

Yet we woke up a peaceful and prosperous — if concerned — nation. Billions of human beings are fed across the world because of the free-market capitalist trading system Americans carefully built and defended in the wake of the Second World War. Poverty — and I mean true poverty — and famine that were serious threats a mere 30 years ago are a thing of the past. The world has not seen a global war in almost 80 years thanks to the Pax Americana. Food and information and entertainment are cheaper and more available today than at any time in human history. Culture, music, the arts are all right at our fingertips. Air conditioning, antibiotics, cancer treatment, travel by land and air, the ability to drink German beer while eating an American steak with furniture made in China. Milton Friedman was right…

This golden age of free goods was made possible by America — and by extension, Virginia. No other nation held it as a principle for so long; no other people held the lamp beside the golden door; no other country offered these opportunities to so many.

Virginia’s gift to the world — imperfect as it began — is worth cultivating and defending, ladies and gentlemen, worth reading and learning about, worth teaching to our children, worth memorializing in statues and battlefields, and worth improving upon.

For one, I refuse with adamantine inflexibility to apologize for being a Virginian. I will not apologize for John Smith and John Rolfe, I will not apologize for Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. I will not apologize for Lee and Jackson. I will not apologize for MacArthur and Patton, for men such as Douglass Southall Freeman and Colgate Darden.

That none of these men met the impossible standards of the whitewashed sepulchers with their postmodern sensibilities ignores the profound fact that they were living men, all striving for a better future for their posterity, and certainly not chasing some bed of Procrustes hoping to cram humanity into the confines of an abstraction. The task for building a more perfect Union would be ongoing, constant, and if ever surrendered — lost.

Perhaps we have stumbled, it is true. Perhaps it is our duty to focus on the things we can change and build from there. That most likely starts with a book or two, and it is nothing for which anyone should apologize.

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