I had the good fortune of attending the University of Virginia, a school with many traditions associated with its celebrated founder Thomas Jefferson. It’s “Mr. Jefferson’s University,” and his presence is still felt in the “academical village” he created in Charlottesville.
On Independence Day, it’s good to think about Jefferson and the other founders of our nation. It’s good to think about change and revolution. The quote “every generation needs a new revolution” is often attributed to Jefferson, although it’s not clear that he really said it. He did say, in a letter written from Paris in 1787, that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” In essence, he was defending the American Revolution, suggesting that the lives lost in the pursuit of freedom were worth it.
The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence is a promise by the signers to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” The 52 individuals who made that pledge were willing to pay the ultimate price if necessary. It’s that sacrifice that we reflect upon today.
How many of us would be willing to sign a similar pledge? I think I might be tempted to call in sick the day the declaration went around the office, or say, “Let me think about it. I’m not sure this is a good time for me to be making any major changes in my life.”
Of course, the time for signing such pledges passed 237 years ago, but that doesn’t mean each succeeding generation gets off the hook. We are the beneficiaries of our founding fathers’ brave resolve, and today we can “pay it back” by being engaged citizens. In other words, we should take advantage of and protect the independence previous generations have sacrificed to make possible for us.
We may not live in revolutionary times, but we can resolve to embrace change and live our lives to their fullest. As Jefferson said, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”
Happy Independence Day!