“We, the people” seem to enjoy sleeping on our comfortable bed of myths about the United States’ “founding fathers,” documents and creeds. Every 4th of July, we seem to remake this bed of mythology.
It is a bed that comforts our belief in American exceptionalism. It is bed that comforts our belief that the United States is the leader of the free world. It is a bed that comforts our belief that US ideals are inherently good. It is a bed that comforts our belief that the founders of the United States were great men who did great things for us, like creating this great country.
“We, the people” seem to avoid the hard floor of truth. And too often, our historians and memories are hindered by duty, blinded by patriotism and restrained by ideology in splashing water on us, in soiling our bed of mythology, in forcing us to wake up to the complex and sometimes awful truth of the American foundation.
Then again, more and more historians in recent years have forced our memories to wake up from the bed of mythology, especially to the complicated truth of Thomas Jefferson. But as awake as we seem to be about Jefferson’s ugly affairs as a slavemaster — and similar ugly affairs by other “founding fathers” — “we, the people” still seem to be commonly sleeping on the comforting bed regarding Jefferson’s greatest achievement and the most cherished of all the founding documents.
Here are three comforting myths about the Declaration of Independence.
1. The Declaration of Independence is the United States’ cornerstone of freedom.
Before countless sporting events today, Americans will stand more upright than usual. Their right hands will be spread wider than usual over their hearts. Americans will sing louder than usual to the heavens about their United States being “the land of the free.” Some Americans will visit “the charters of freedom” in the…