Writer’s Note: The United States of America is nearing her 245th birthday. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering the odds.
As I sit here thinking about the country of my birth, I am keenly aware of the uneasiness that many Americans are feeling. That unease comes from many sources: How do we emerge safely from the pandemic that changed our world? How can we come together again in peace as Americans? How will the violence in so many of our larger cities come to an end? Some wonder if what most historians consider to be the greatest experiment in democracy in the history of the world might not be showing signs of weakness and deterioration.
As we struggle both as individuals and as a country to regain our footing and restore our confidence and pride in being Americans, perhaps this would be a good time to reflect on those things that make us ALL uniquely American. — GP
July 4, 2021: Let’s Unite
to Celebrate the USA!
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” That statement is both simple, profound, and timely. Like President Clinton, many Americans believe that although there are challenges, America remains the land of opportunity that is the envy of many around the world.
It seems to me that there is a tug of war for the heart of America going on these days. It is particularly distressing that increasingly strident voices are using the present unrest to push personal agendas that may not be in the best interest of the country as a whole. One thing that is encouraging to many (including me) is that instead of open rebellion, nearly all parties concerned seem focused on the next round of national elections in 2022. I hope that you join me in taking comfort in the knowledge that most Americans still believe that the ballot box is a better path to change than the bullet.
Is 245 Years All That Old?
Research reveals that most scholars believe the earliest civilizations developed around 6000 - 6500BC. This marked the time, most scholars agree, when people began settling down one area as opposed to living a nomadic existence. There are 10 countries that are considered by many to be the earliest ones formed — and all of them are well over 245 years old and were, if fact, formed thousands of years ago. One of the problems with attempting to date the beginnings of a country is that nearly all countries “evolve” over time.
A second challenge that complicates determining origination dates is understanding the difference in an empire and a country. Simply stated, an empire is a political unit that rules over vast territories. A country is a sovereign state with its own territorial boundaries and government.
The youngest of those countries considered to be “elder” countries is one you likely have never heard of —San Marino, a tiny country that is located on the Italian Peninsula. Records indicate that the country was founded in 301BC when a monastery was built. Scholars argue that it has been an uninterrupted sovereign state since that date, making it the oldest such state. Interestingly, it also has what some believe to be the world’s oldest constitution which dates to 1600. However, because the laws are not all codified, scholars generally agree that our U.S. Constitution is the oldest.
Others in the “elder” category include Iran (known as Persia to the West until 1935) which was founded in 550 BC as part of the Achaemenid Empire. Japan was founded in 660BC. The date marks the first time that an emperor takes the throne and Japan’s imperial dynasty is established. China was founded in 221BC when the first Chinese dynasty was established.
Greece was founded in 800BC when the country began emerging from the Dark Ages. Ethiopia, though founded in 980BC, had humans living there as nomads for several million years before. Georgia was founded in the 15th century BC when tribes set up small states. In 3000BC, Afghanistan was founded and one of the world’s first cities, Mundigak (located near the more familiar modern-day Kandahar) was established.
In 3300BC, India was founded. Traces of people living in the region trace back to the Indus Valley civilization. Egypt was founded in 6000BC when Upper and Lower Egypt were unified into a single kingdom.
There are other countries that sport centuries of history. At only 245 years old, the USA is just an infant compared to these! One important point must not be overlooked. Did people live in the land we know of as the USA before the USA was founded? Certainly. Many were on this land long before — coming through the north over the land bridge, crossing both oceans in all types of boats, and moving up from the south from the other Americas. Our country — the United States of America — did not exist until 1776.
Land of Opportunity
One of the more colorful of America’s Founding Fathers was Benjamin Franklin. Short in stature but long on wisdom, Franklin understood perhaps better than many of his contemporaries both the breadth and limitations of the new country’s Constitution. Franklin observed, “The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
Somewhere along the line many have forgotten that significant distinction. Americans aren’t guaranteed happiness. No one is, or ever can be. To even think that such a thing as “conferred happiness” is even possible is ludicrous. What we are guaranteed is the right to pursue it — and that “it” is whatever each of us as individuals defines as “happiness”. For some it may be wealth; for others, a loving family; for many, to live peacefully in good health. Whatever “it” happens to be, individuals have the responsibility to strike their own paths to attain their particular happiness.
Martin Scorsese, himself the grandson of Italian immigrants, grew up in Little Italy in New York City. With determination and hard work, he became one of America’s premier film directors, producers, screenwriters, and actors. For today’s Americans who may still be confused about what the Constitution promises, his words resonate: “When I was growing up, I don’t remember being told that America was created so that everyone could get rich. I remember being told it was about opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. Not happiness itself, but the pursuit.”
O Beautiful for Spacious Skies . . .
While “The Star-Spangled Banner” is our national anthem, there is a second song that is just as closely associated with the USA. “America the Beautiful” is an anthem that honors the physical grandeur of this country, the pilgrims who sought —and found — freedom here, the heroes who fought with their lives for that freedom, and the dream of continued patriotism and love of country that will guide our country’s future path.
The song came to be almost by accident. The lyrics were penned by Katharine Lee Bates as a poem entitled “Pikes Peak” in 1893. The music was composed by choirmaster and organist Samuel A. Ward who wrote it as the music for a hymn, “O Mother dear, Jerusalem” in 1882 at his church in New Jersey. The two parts were combined in 1910 and published as “America the Beautiful”.
U.S. President Harry S. Truman wrote, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Truman’s words resonate today as we face serious challenges to our republic from near and far.
Perhaps never before has the final verse of “America the Beautiful” be more fervently sung than it will be on this July 4th:
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!