In a little house on Market Street, in Philadelphia, a nation was born. Occasionally stopping to play his violin, to clear his mind, then continuing with quill pen, the Declaration of Independence flowed onto parchment from the hand of a man as conflicted as any of us.
When you look at fine writing, concise writing, nothing exceeds the quality of that document. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…” That single statement embodies the hopes and dreams of a nation of people, and still separates those people from much of the rest of the world. Yes, Americans are exceptional, and America is still the shining city on the hill that most of the rest of the world needs to emulate. And much of that exceptionalism flows from that document created in that little house on Market Street.
Many think that in that small room, Thomas Jefferson rose far, far above even his own beliefs and prejudices, which is what we wish all our legislators would do when they enter what we hope are hallowed halls of government. While Jefferson wrote, his servant and slave Robert Hemmings, inherited from his father in law, would bring him tea and attend to his personal needs…oft times men demonstrate the quality of man, the deeper drive to improve all of mankind, deeper than ones own physical, mental, or carnal wants and needs. That identifies the quality of many men, but not many men are the quality of Thomas Jefferson, with all the warts and blemishes history has ascribed to him. Thomas Jefferson stayed in that room while great personal tragedies took place at home in Monticello…the loss of a child. What courage and dedication it took to keep his mind on his work, and not fall into morose, dejected, mourning. But he must have sensed that what he was doing had greater meaning, greater importance, that what travails might happen to any single human being. What an inner conflict to write “all men are created equal,” while being served by one of your own slaves. Robert Hemmings eventually bought his freedom, with Jefferson’s obvious approval for no slave could obtain his manumission without his “owner’s” permission.
The final line of the Declaration of Independence: 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.
Can you imagine those words flowing from our current Administration or Congress. More and more I fear those hallowed halls of Washington D.C. are becoming hollow halls, as hollow as the hopes and dreams and honesty of those who frequent them.
Where are our Jeffersons?