Several weeks ago, I was watching an interview with historian Michael Beschloss as he was discussing his latest book, The Presidents of War. As he was talking about our continued divided times, he quoted the last line from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “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.”
For those of you who don’t remember, each man who signed this document, high-minded as it is, was also signing his individual death warrant. Had the British captured any one of them, they would have been hanged as traitors to the British Crown. As brutal, messy, expensive and divisive as the Revolutionary War was, enough Americans remained pledged to the cause.
As a country, we have needed occasional reminders of our pledge to our high ideals. Lincoln did it at Gettysburg in November 1863 when he clarified the real purpose of the Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt did it again in January 1941 in his “Four Freedoms” speech. Then John F. Kennedy reminded us again in his inaugural address in January 1961.
We live in an era of both finely tuned echo chambers tailored to any given political leanings, and where simply defeating the opposition is not enough: the opposition must be smeared, slandered and destroyed. As a result, truths suffer, civility suffers and then our common bonds break. And then we lose sight of our pledge to one another.
I think we are about due for another reminder. I know I sure need one.
I'm Andrew Nelson and that's my perspective.