I have visited Washington a total of 6 times in my life – twice under the age of 10, once when I was in college, once during my service to former Congressman Nick Smith, and twice for my current job at the MML. During my youth, I mainly focused my time at the monuments. I’ve walked up and down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, traveled up and down the elevator of the Washington Monument, and walked around the statue at the Jefferson Memorial. As I have grown older, my visits have revolved around the Capitol Building and the various Congressional Offices. That was still a big part of my most recent trip to Washington, but I made it certain that there was more that I wanted to see.
I made it a point to visit our Declaration of Indepedance again. As I waited in line to see the document, a few thoughts occurred to me. First and foremost, how great is our country that the people of our land (and for that matter, people of any land) can come and see the source of our freedom. 233 years ago even putting words embodying the idea that men have the right to “live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“ was so strange that these men actually were called traitors. The courage of these men is something we all should replicate, much like the many nations (namely – France) have done so with their own versions of our Declaration.
Second, while courageous, these men were also cowards. When reading the history on the drafting of the document, you will find that a proposed section critical of the slave trade was removed from the early draft of the Declaration. Could the Civil War have been prevented had these men left that in there. We’ll never know.
Lastly, and I guess this goes back to my first thought, there is some great stuff of courage in this document. To quote Nicholas Cage from the movie National Treasure, “Of all the ideas that became the United States, there’s a line here that’s at the heart of all the others. ‘But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and provide new Guards for their future security.'”
When feeling self-pity, when feeling frustrated about my position in life, when feeling lost from time-to-time, I think of this and suddenly remember what this means. If there’s something wrong, then those who have the power and ability to do something about it must do something about it. Isn’t that what America is all about.
So my friends, I share with you a video of a number of actors and actresses (including Whoopie Goldberg, Ed Norton, Wynonna Rider, Michael Douglas, Mel Gibson, and Morgan Freeman)reading the Declaration of Independence. I hope you listen to it, read along with it, and live it.