Each year on the Fourth of July, the United States of America celebrates its Independence Day. Back in 1776 on this day, a group of former British citizens drafted the Declaration of Independence. In this document, they declared that they would not be bound by the corrupt and asinine rule of their British monarch. Instead, they asked for a form of representative government, one that would require people from all walks of life to take a stand and join together. Though none of these founding fathers was without flaw, they took an action that has forever changed the course of human history. Apparently, the struggle they endured is no longer appreciated by many who call America home, as the hashtag #AmericaWasNeverGreat found a prominent home around twitter on July 4th, 2016. While the final decision of whether America was ever great may still be left up in the air, this hashtag included so much historical ignorance that it could make your head spin. With that in mind, here is a hard look at the actual history of the country and this writer’s thoughts on why America was, for a brief time, a great nation.
— ∆li (@ThaKingALi) July 6, 2016
One of the biggest challenges people seem to grasp is that “never” is a pretty absolute word. It means that from July 4th 1776 until today, America was never actually “great.” While some might argue about the definition of great, let’s consider for the sake of this article this official definition from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary: “remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness.” Among the definitions listed, this one seems to be the best for describing any country. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to assume that there will always be great nations. After all, how can something be remarkable except by standing up above others? In other words, the concept of “great” assumes a comparison with others. Admitting right off the bat that tragedies like this could certainly be used to claim that America is no longer great, let’s take a step back and consider it in the historical reality.
America was built on oppression. #AmericaWasNeverGreat
— Young Nasty J (@JuanCorchado10) July 5, 2016
— 無感覚 (@MalePocahontas) July 5, 2016
These tweets, and so many others like them, seem to suggest that the foundation of the United States was actually based on some evil agenda. It’s as if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and their friends all decided that they hated everyone but whites and wanted to exterminate them from the earth. This notion is flawed in its entirety.
Back in 1776, when the United States was created, slavery was already well-established within the colonies. In fact, the History Channel outlines how slaves came over in 1619 in the first British colony. In other words, slavery wasn’t something invented by the United States. It was alive and well (ancient Egypt actually) long before the concept of liberty emerged. After the revolution, slavery continued in the states up until the Civil War. Yes, it was abhorring and completely wrong in every possible way. But, at the time it was totally accepted. It might seem hard to imagine, but if you could put yourselves in the shoes of someone else, you might see why it didn’t change right away. A good comparison would be to travel over to certain countries in Asia. Over there, eating a cat or a dog might be totally normal. Here, you might feel sick at the notion (please keep in mind, this is not to compare any humans to animals. No matter what ethnic descent or “race” you might be, we are all part of the human race and should not be treated any differently).
Moving beyond the racial issues that continue to plague our nation today (and recognizing that this does not detract from the greatness in this context), you might want to address the genocide next. As you can find out from the National Park Service, American Indians during the early days of the United States were not actually in that bad of a situation all the time. In fact, most of the genocide and murder of Native Americans occurred well before the American Revolution. Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortez, and other settlers and conquistadors are the ones responsible for most of the masacres prior to the United States even being an idea. During the Revolutionary War, some of the Native American groups sided with the colonies and some with the crown. In effect, some were killed in the war by US revolutionaries and some weren’t. In the War of 1812, some of the Native Americans sided with Britain again, and once again they were beaten by then US troops. Unfortunately, after this time many Americans started to oppress and discriminate the natives on their own, leading to more dark times in US history.
You want America to be great again you have to first admit America was never great in the first place #americawasnevergeat
— miranda✨ (@slilthing) July 6, 2016
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” If you have gone through an sort of educational system in the United States, you should immediately recognize these words as the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Now, there is more to that historic document than the preamble, including a list of grievances against King George. They even concluded the document with this:
“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
So, what exactly was the country calling for? They were calling for a first in the political arena. Pulling from philosophers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, they put forth the first actual nation operating under the belief that no man was born greater than another. Instead, the underlying philosophy could be summarized as Rousseau so delicately put it before: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.”
Prior to the formation of the United States and the corresponding Constitution in 1787, the law of the land for virtually every nation around the world was based on blood-lines and birth rights. If you were born into a family of farmers, you were a farmer. If your family was wealthy and powerful, you were wealthy and powerful. No one in the general population had a say in how things went and no one was afforded any sort of equal protection under the law. This is the sort of system that sparked folk heroes like Robin Hood, who would take back from the kings, dukes, earls, and other wealthy who robbed the people of what they worked for. After all, the average citizen could only have what the royalty allowed him.
Thanks to the American system put forth in the Declaration of Independence and the following Constitution, this all changed. Now, the people were set to govern themselves and to keep the government in check. In fact, many of the early political leaders in the country were farmers and workman of some sort. Artificial classes were shattered and everyone had an equal shot.
I’m Canadian, and I’m disgusted at all you ungrateful fucks using #AmericaWasNeverGreat. You have no clue. TRAVEL. LIVE ABROAD. So spoiled.
— Confessions of an Ex (@ConfessionsExMu) July 5, 2016
Of course, there is no denying that America faultered after its initial foundation. Despite the philosophical belief that “all men are created equal” the country continued to subjagate people based on the color of their skin. Racism and slavery did play a rule in the early foundation of the colonies, and while there was a glimmer of progress early on, it was often stifled by the times. Keep in mind though, the concept of greatness isn’t about comparing to oneself, but rather comparing the world as a whole. Britain, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc. were all still living in similar conditions, and many of them didn’t have protections for anyone, regardless of their race. In a way, this still kept America ahead of the rest of the world. As time continued though, the example of liberty began to spread and other countries started to do away with this “rule by birthright” mentality. Now, more nations hold elections and strive to be more like the United States.
Yes, America has been plagued with struggles. It is almost unfathomable for many of us that racism and sexism exist today, or that hate and terrorism are still such huge problems in our community after all that we have gone through. Despite these shortcomings though, the foundation of the country is what made most of what you value today possible in the first place. It’s what allows you the choice of being what you want when you grow up, or gives you the option of moving out of your neighborhood and into a better one. It allows you to strive for that car you want, buy that iPhone you use every day, and have a real impact and voice around the world. Without the American Revolution, the concept of liberty and “rule by and for the people,” would be nothing more than a concept.
Before tweeting #AmericaWasNeverGreat , remember that in 105 countries, criticizing the government is punishable by imprisonment or death.
— Jim Deitsch (@JamesDeitsch) July 5, 2016
When you consider the history (in context), it is hard to deny that in one way or another, America really was great early in its history. Without a nation to actually stand up and put liberty into action, the world would likely be trapped in a state of constant servitude. Odds are, racism would be much worse than it is, slavery would still exist, and most (if not all) of these inventions you hold so dear would have never been created. So, before you go around claiming that America was never great, you might want to check your privileged. Compared to the rest of the world today, it still might be possible to say America is great, but like all things, history is cyclical. Knowing that, fighting to “restore greatness” is going to be an uphill battle.