The Optimism of the Founders

The grand experiment that is the United States has worked for 236 years. Our Founding Fathers' optimism was well-placed. Today let's set aside the cynical view and contemplate what it is we're celebrating, and honor those who were willing to risk it all...


"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

                  - John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail

Mr. Adams might have been off just a little on the exact date but he was absolutely right otherwise. 

And consider the optimism evident in his words; he and his co-signers of the Declaration of Independence, by affixing their names to an ambitious document formalizing the young American colonies legal separation from the British Crown, had defiantly committed what could only be considered an act of treason against arguably the most politically, economically, and militarily powerful nation in the world!  Maybe, when all the odds say your grand experiment will almost certainly lead you to the end of your rope (literally), cockeyed optimism is about the only thing that will let you sleep at night.  When you gamble and deign to challenge the status quo, and set in motion wheels of change whose vibrations will echo across centuries, optimism is a rather necessary ingredient.

Sometimes gambles pay off.  So this week, as we commemorate a bold act of calculated treason with solemn acts of devotion, pomp and parades, and all manner of "shows, games, sports, guns, bells bonfires, and illuminations" as well as barbeques, picnics, and golf, we are really paying tribute to a small band of brilliant optimists.  So play, party, and be loud!  I like to think they wanted it that way.  But while you're at it, examine your own level of optimism.  Are you a "glass half full" person, or do you focus on where it is empty? 

We've lately been writing a lot about cynicism in law enforcement.  While we know and understand that a certain degree of cynicism is inevitable in a profession that exposes its practitioners to the worst of human nature and behavior - realistically, it might even be necessary for officers to survive and flourish in a job where trusting too much can get you killed - we also know and understand that too much becomes toxic.  Unchecked cynicism becomes pessimism, the antithesis of optimism and a sure pathway to the depression and siege mentality we urge against but that is so common among cops.

The writing, and signing, of the Declaration of Independence was an exercise in, and homage to, unbridled optimism.  The history of the United States, it's expansion far beyond the bounds of the original colonies into a global power, and our unparalleled economic, political, and military leadership in the world is due to our natural national optimism and willingness to dare.  Even today when some see ascendant nations challenging the US in terms of economic and educational attainment, global influence, scientific innovation, and progress in the name of freedom, and worry that somehow portends a US in decline, I see it quite differently; those nations have learned and benefitted from a world led and secured by a strong US, and the proliferation of politically and economically powerful democracies is a testament to the wisdom and courage of our Founding Fathers.  People from less developed and less democratic nations still long to come to America, as well as many other strong and proliferating democracies, and yet other nations are working hard toward shedding antiquated and sometimes still autocratic ways of doing business as their citizens learn why and how things should be done in a free nation and put demands on their leaders to do it.  The American ideal is still revered.

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