Happy Birthday, America!
The heroic act of patriots we celebrate today may seem like a distant and optimistic artifact of history, as we once again address issues of racial and economic equality in our country. But we celebrate Independence Day to remind ourselves how much we have grown as a people, and how much each of us must play our part to continue our advance.
This is the day dozens of men risked being hanged for treason by the British King to launch one of the greatest and most successful ideas in human history: a nation dedicated to the proposition that everyone is created equal and entitled to a vote on who should govern and lead our society.
Here in the Evergreen State, we are connected to the idealism of the Founding Fathers through the pioneers sent West by the President who wrote the Declaration of Independence.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote those words dedicating the new United States to the proposition that all men were created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, this lofty goal was very different than realty at the time. Some men were enslaved. Women could not vote.
But when Merriweather Lewis and William Clark held the first American vote in the West, they took a big step toward realizing the ideals of the Revolution. A black slave and a native American women were allowed to vote along with the rest of the Corps of Discovery about the location of their winter camp. It was important to get it right, as it could be a matter of life or death. So everyone’s insights were needed.
Lewis and Clark were generations ahead of their time, but they were motivated by frontier pragmatism and inspired by the ideals of the Founding Fathers as expressed in the Declaration of Independence written by the man who sent them West.
As generations passed, the ideals of the Revolution started to become reality, often first among the pioneers in the West. Washington allowed women to vote 10 years before ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the 100th Anniversary of which we celebrate this year.
So as we consider issues of equality in our society—and we need to address them—let’s also remember and honor the ongoing success of our shared experiment in democracy. Those who met in Congress in Philadelphia in 1776 risked everything they had to give us that chance.
I have great faith that guided by frontier pragmatism and the ideals of the American Revolution, we in the Evergreen State will continue to be pioneers in the journey toward equality.