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'Great Experiment' still going strong for lucky ones

July 3, 2011 at 2:03 a.m.


It's another birthday for this Great Experiment, this democracy many said would not last - this America.

But it has lasted; in fact, it has flourished for 235 years as of today, ever since the signers of our Declaration of Independence proclaimed that our government should always be "instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

It sometimes seems, however, that the "governed" in America spend a lot of their time trying to derive a little breathing room (forget power) from those who govern.

I'm not trying to take any side in a Republican versus Democrat debate. The fact is, for most of the 20th century and thus far in the 21st, under leadership of both parties, the federal government and our state governments have been an ever-growing leviathan sometimes threatening the Founding Fathers' dream of an America where ordinary people could strive for "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness."

The Constitution, not accidentally, begins with the words "We the people," not "We the government," or "We the EPA," or "We the IRS" - I could go on and on.

The Founders wanted very much to limit the size and scope of the federal government. You have only to read their words in the aforementioned documents to see that clearly.

When, in 1787, the few states at that time gathered in Philadelphia to turn the Articles of Confederation into the U.S. Constitution, there were abundant arguments and debates over just what the scope of the federal government should be.

The framers of this great document concluded that only by limiting that scope could the federal and state governments co-exist in harmony.

But sadly, their vision of America is as dim today as the parchment on which their precious 18th century documents are written.

In the wonderful preamble to the Constitution are the overall goals set for that fledgling country. Let's see how we've done, shall we?

You vote and I'll be quiet. Have we formed a more perfect Union? Established justice? Ensured domestic tranquility?

Most of us would say we've provided for the common defense. And while we're at it, let's salute all those in our military and still in harm's way overseas, those who have returned safely to us, and tragically those lost in our fight against terrorism.

Back to the preamble. Some would certainly argue we haven't always promoted the general welfare or secured the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

But, despite the flaws of the government and the governed in America, we still have the greatest country on this Earth. Think about it: Would you want to live anywhere else?

Way up in Philadelphia, in a place called Independence Park, is the old meeting hall for which the park is named. It is by definition the birthplace of our freedom, the cradle of our democracy, where the Founders scratched out the words that made us the greatest.

Elsewhere in the park, there is a big old bell. They call it the Liberty Bell.

It's cracked all the way down one side, a flaw which reportedly developed the first time they rang it to proclaim the new Republic.

Yes, it's cracked. And yes, sometimes our country is damaged, too.

But there is a biblical inscription on that great bell - words for all of us to live by as we contemplate our great country. It's from Leviticus 25:10:

"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

That says it all. Happy birthday, America and all you lucky Americans.

Jim Bishop is a former executive editor of the Victoria Advocate. He lives in Victoria.

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