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The Dignity of Our Nation's Founders

( Originally Published 1927 )


THE Declaration of Independence was, when it occurred, a capital transaction in human affairs; as such it has kept its place in history ; as such it will maintain itself while human interest in human institutions shall endure. The scene and the actors, for their pro-found impression on the world, at the time and ever since, have owed nothing to dramatic effects, nothing to epical exaggerations. To the eye there was nothing wonderful or vast or splendid or pathetic in the movement or the display. Imagination or art can give no sensible grace or decoration to the persons, the place, or the performance which made up the business of that day. The worth and force that be-long to the agents and the action rest wholly on the wisdom, the courage and the faith that formed and executed the great design, and the potency and permanence of its operation upon the affairs of the world which followed as foreseen and legitimate con-sequences.

The dignity of the act is the deliberate, circumspect, open and serene performance by these men, in the clear light 0f day and by a concurrent purpose, of a civic duty which embraced the greatest hazards to themselves and to all the people from whom they held this disputed discretion but which to their sober judgments promised benefits to that people and to their posterity, exceeding these hazards and commensurate with its own fitness. The question of their conduct is to be measured by the actual weight and pressure of the manifold considerations which surrounded the subject before them and by the abundant evidence that they comprehended their vastness and variety. By a voluntary and responsible choice they willed to do what was done and what without their will would not have been done.

Thus estimated, the illustrious act covers all who participated in it with its own renown and makes them forever conspicuous among men, as it is forever famous among events. And thus the signers of our Declaration of Independence " wrote their names where all nations should behold them and all time should not efface them." It was " in the course of human events " intrusted to them to determine whether the fullness 0f time had come when a nation should be born in a day. They declared the independence of a new nation in the sense in which men declare emancipation or declare war, the declaration created what was declared.

Famous always among men are the founders of states and fortunate above all others in such fame are these, our fathers, whose combined wisdom and courage began the great structure of 0ur national existence and laid sure the foundations of liberty and justice on which it rests. Fortunate first in the clearness of their title and in the world's acceptance of their rightful claim. Fortunate next in the enduring magnitude of the State they founded and the beneficence of its protection of the vast interests of human life and happiness which have here had their home. Fortunate again in the admiring imitations of their work which the institutions of the most powerful and most advanced nations more and more exhibit. Fortunate last of all in the full demonstration of our later time that their work is adequate to withstand the most disastrous storms of human fortunes and survive unwrecked, unshaken and unharmed.

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