2 July 2015

Notes from Norm: Edward Rutledge and his gift to America

This 4th of July represents 239 years since 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence.

The youngest of them, Edward Rutledge, was 26 years old.  

Rutledge was a South Carolina aristocrat who spent most of his life in public service, fought against the British, served in Congress, the South Carolina legislature and finally, before dying at 50 years of age, served two years as Governor of South Carolina.

The oldest of them, Benjamin Franklin, a legendary and iconic American figure who was 70 years of age at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At his death at 84 years of age Franklin remained a central figure in American life.

Today, I imagine a vast majority of Americans can place the name of Benjamin Franklin as easily as they can any of the iconic figures of our nation’s history.

As for Mr. Rutledge it would be fair to say that history has not treated him with such reverence, nor, despite his service to his nation, with little in the way of honor to recognize his contributions to our country’s liberation from the British throne.

I find it fitting that this year we celebrate Independence Day on the heels of some of the most remarkable events in our nation’s history in a generation.

The United States Supreme Court reminded us of its powerful role in the structure of divided government this nation has enjoyed since its founding.

Whether one agrees with their rulings on ObamaCare, gay marriage and a series of other significant regulatory and political matters, their decisions will fundamentally impact life in America.

Astonishingly, our nation has not been ripped apart by violent protests and confrontations in our streets – there have been no credible voices calling for the toppling of the United States Supreme Court – or threats and promises of retribution for their rulings.

To be sure there have been extraordinary loud voices of dissent, the public expressions of anger, disappointment and frustration – as well as similarly public expressions of joy, celebration and relief.

This is the America that is as strong today as it was 239 years ago when it declared itself free and liberated from Great Britain.

The America that, despite the conflicts that separate us on issues, ideology, politics and culture, still holds together and committed to honoring the conclusions of our highest court.

It is the same America that every Election Day millions of us go to the polls optimistic that our point of view and our candidates will emerge victorious while millions of us go to bed at night disappointed that our ideas and our candidates lost.

We do not storm government buildings, pour into the streets destroying public property or inuring, or worse, our political opponents.

It says something about us, and our country and our system of government that despite all that divides us there is so much more that binds us together.

From time to time it is easy to forget that being the United States of America does not guarantee we are the Unified States of America.  

There is a difference.  And, it has been that difference that has long impressed a world that finds countries in upheaval at every turn.  Countries where its people turn on one another time and time again because of conflict over religion – politics – the color of one’s skin – or the level of its national debt.

Elections in this countries are not nearly as much about consequences as they are about simply having another platform to express one’s personal beliefs.

If those beliefs do not prevail at the polls then mass protests and demonstrations in an attempt to overturn those results is always an option.

Ben Franklin and Edward Rutledge could not have possibly imagined the America we live in, much less the world in which we find ourselves in, today.

Yet, they must have imagined an America that could turn liberty and freedom into a powerful force for the future.  

If not, then such threats to their standing and comfort, not to mention their own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, would not have been prudent under any circumstances.

Instead, they could have lived their life in America in comfort well above the majority of their countrymen, content with the trappings of their own fortune and fame.

Thankfully, they chose to stand for the greater good.  They chose to stand for the future of others despite the threat to their own.

Ben Franklin and a handful of the 56 signatories to the Declaration of Independence have been remembered long after their passing for many great personal accomplishments and contributions to our nation’s future.

While we may not remember Edward Rutledge by his name we well know his gift to us as we celebrate our 239th 4th of July.

The gift of freedom.