by John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives
Annie and I are in Ankara, Turkey visiting our Navy son Eric and his family. Being in another country makes you think about what is special about the US. Moreover, North Carolina has a primary coming up on March 15th, and it will be time to vote about our future. My goal is to talk about why so many of us are proud and hopeful about our country and what we have accomplished as a diverse people in over two centuries. By establishing our government of, by and for the people, we set off on a course to bring freedom to a new land unhindered by the old politics of Europe.
The American Revolution overthrew the monarchy of George III and the tyranny he was inflicting on the citizens of his 13 American colonies. Monarchies rule with the interests of the royal elite at heart. Their rule is often propped up by the consent of a religious institution, in this case the Church of England. They rule giving monopoly rights to corporations like the East India Company, forcing the colonists to buy tea only from this company while charging a hefty tax. The Boston Tea Party was an attack on this arrangement — what we might call crony capitalism today. “Taxation without Representation” became the slogan of the American Independence movement, and with its unlikely victory the world would witness a brand new form of government.
And yet, when our Constitution was ratified, there was a fear of “mob rule.” Could President Washington command the respect of a monarch? The Electoral College was set up as a buffer against an election gone wrong. The common man was once again feared and disenfranchised. The elections of Jefferson and Jackson, however, brought a new democratic spirit, and Americans grew more comfortable with freedom for the less privileged. For so long, these classes had been powerless in Europe, and a powerless people have only one recourse: rebellion.
The paradox of a country proclaiming that all men are created equal, yet with enslaved black workers, dominated political rancor up until the Civil War. So much blood was spilled in that war, and yet once again freedom won the day, and slavery ended while the union prevailed. The long road of African-American freedom had just begun, and 150 years later we are still working for that more perfect union of peoples.
In the late 1800s, huge corporations were created, employing thousands of workers. Many of these workers were immigrants. The Know Nothing political party arose to fight immigration, especially immigrants coming from Eastern Europe. Could the American system accommodate those ethnic groups in her cities? And could the American worker get a fair shake competing for jobs with so many others? And could workers in general gain rights in the workplace? Once again the country faced turmoil with labor strikes and violence.
Labor troubles bred a new suspicion of the powerful corporation, and Theodore Roosevelt brought into play trust-busting to break up monopolies, as in a Tea Party of another form. We went to war twice in the 20th century in the name of democracy, and the world witnessed the rise of a new power. Our soldiers from all walks of life fought furiously for American values.
In between the wars, our nation faced the devastating Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used all of the powers of government to help families survive. Even though we still debate the effectiveness of the New Deal, we can all agree that it gave people jobs and hope for a better life.
In the Sixties, the Civil Rights movement arose under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. to fight once again for freedom, and it ended the Jim Crow era. The Women’s Rights movement arose as well to break down occupational constraints and role models. People with disabilities also benefited from a new commitment to better integrating many citizens with challenges into our society.
Americans have always believed in the limitless power of individuals, if only they could be freed from artificial constraints. Even the African-American community, representing the most challenging integration of people in our history, has produced the most success stories of members of their race across the world. And by unleashing the abilities of women, we have unleashed the capabilities of whole generations of people.
Education of “The People” — all of the people — has driven the American experience in innovation and productivity. Pushing freedom past its current boundaries is in large part the story of our nation. Our young people now are pushing for an expansion of LGBT rights, and the courts have been agreeable. Once again we wrestle as Americans with the limits of social restraint and the possibilities of freedom.
Finally, we must glory in the freedom to worship that is a large part of this story. By not establishing a state religion, we have witnessed an amazing range of religious expression in the United States, allowing an individual to follow his or her own conscience.
Freedom is not just an empty word, but an active part of our American experience.