Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his “Concert & Conversation” series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
Since “Independence Day” just passed, I thought I’d offer up
aspects of that story that we sometimes forget in all the celebratory activity.
When a business wants to show that they’ve been around awhile they, quite naturally, display how long they’ve been established. You’ve seen the signage: Est. 1897… Est. 1974… whatever the number is that will give the business some heft. And, of course, the date chosen is the very earliest they could possibly make the claim. Longevity translates to stability, and you can trust stability.
So July 4, 1776 is America’s date of establishment (even though most historians agree that the Declaration of Independence was signed August 2 of that year - a month is not such a big deal). However, a declaration is just a declaration, much the same as me declaring that my crush in junior high was my girlfriend. If the other party disagrees, does it still make it so?
So when were we actually free from Great Britain’s rule? Well, the war ended in October 1781 and the “formal abandonment of claims” happened with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Governance issues were finally settled on with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 and the Bill of Rights in 1791.
On the other hand, historians pin the revolutionary era beginning when the French no longer had a hold on the country. This happened in 1763 after British victories in the French and Indian War. Or perhaps the date should be when fighting broke out by colonists under the yoke of British rule on April 19, 1775.
My favorite Mark Twain quote is, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
All agree that the revolution started because of a series of provocative laws (Citizens United, anyone?). One of the first was the Navigation Acts. As you might expect, it was all about the money; specifically that the colonies could only do business with Britain. This led to open ended search warrants (hmm...) and when a Boston lawyer, James Otis, argued against this in 1761, he lost. But James Madison is quoted as saying, “Then and there the child of Independence was born.”
My real point to all this history is that few things happen on a particular day. Of course, we need a specific date to celebrate. But we can’t forget that things develop over periods of time, and it takes time to settle back into a new paradigm. Even a birth started with conception, and before that some sort of attraction. And anyone that’s changed a diaper knows that it takes awhile to conform to the new reality.
I wonder if we’ll look back at the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2000 election ... the multiple wars that are sapping this country of its common wealth ... the Citizens United decision that corporations are people ... Occupy Wall Street; so many indicators that something is off track.
Maybe some new Thomas Paine will write an update—Common Cents—because there are so many in poverty in this land of opportunity.
One of the most curious things about the American Revolution is that it’s the only revolution that was fought so that things could essentially stay the same. Generally speaking, things were going very well in the colonies.
Only now are things feeling unjust for the majority. What’s becoming exceptional about America is its silence in the face of slow decline; its complacency in the face of the dissolution of so many things that are critical to a strong, vibrant community of people. What’s the story?