Inspiring America’s ideals
- Last Updated: 10:49 PM, July 3, 2012
- Posted: 10:38 PM, July 3, 2012
West of the truck stop at Fort Stockton, Texas, and all the way to El Paso, there is almost nothing but mashed-potato hills, scrub brush and the open road. The speed limit is pretty much whatever you want it to be, and Texas Rangers are few and far between. For a few hours, you can imagine what the first settlers felt upon encountering the vast, majestic emptiness that is west Texas and all from the safety of your steering wheel.
You feel free.
It’s not emptiness, of course — not then and certainly not now, when the American horizon seems so much narrower than it once was. The pioneers, ranchers, cattlemen, schoolmarms, saloon keepers, cowboys, preachers, peddlers and prostitutes didn’t see it as empty at all, but as limitless — Nature’s illustration of the wondrous possibilities of the American experiment whose birthday we celebrate today.
The airplane has diminished our sense of wonder at where we are, but, especially on this day, it’s worth remembering — and experiencing.
Stand on the banks of the Mississippi near St. Louis and imagine the mighty river back in Mark Twain’s time, teeming with riverboats, southbound for New Orleans, or up the river to the Quad Cities — and, if you listen hard, hear the sounds of ragtime and jazz flowing along her course.
Sit quietly in the Black Hills of South Dakota, watching the hawks circling overhead, not a man-made sound to be heard for miles in every direction, then make your way back into the raucous casino town of Deadwood (yes, it really exists) and marvel at the juxtaposition of natural immutability and transient human fortunes.
Drive the interstate between Needles and Barstow, Calif., through some of the most terrifying landscape in the western hemisphere, and be in awe of the ingenuity and sheer determined cussedness it took to cross the Mojave desert to get to the fertile Central Valley of California and to the wide ocean beyond. And say a prayer for those who never made it.
These scenes are repeated all over our land — a continent tamed by hard work and self-reliance, by natives and immigrants, banding together in farming communities and mobile wagon trains alike, and setting out on the voyage of their lives, in search of that which marks us all as uniquely American: freedom.
The United States may have been born in the minds of a few brave patriots in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Savannah, but the country was already there, waiting for us. The Framers had no way of knowing that, of course — but somehow they felt it in their souls, knew that a destiny much greater lay over the Appalachians, across the Great Plains and the Rockies and all the way to the West Coast.
In the Declaration of Independence, they threw down a marker, not just for themselves but for all humanity — a cry from the heart attached to a bill of particulars and sealed with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.
“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.”
That was the voice of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Ben Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, among others. But it was more than that — it was the voice of the land, speaking through them.
Our country may have been born in revolution along the Atlantic seaboard but she was here long before the Founders brought her into being. It’s often said that America is an idea, not a place — a country devoted to a principle, not to a single people. And there’s some truth in that.
But in another sense, that’s exactly backward. For America is also a place that gave birth to a grand experiment in shared ideals and self-governance, a land of such great bounty and variety that it could not help but inspire — not just the Founders but all of us. Long may she continue to do so, from sea to shining sea.Follow @NYPostOpinion