Independence Day 2017. I remember the complex feelings this experience evoked in me. I feel like a reached the correct conclusion, but it’s always good to re-evaluate in the face of new experience or new information.
Remember… we’re all works-in-progress.
I came across an article from the Washington Post earlier today that holds some measure of my attention even yet. I opened the News & Weather app on my phone to see the temperature in Marietta, as I did not have a thermometer handy, and when the news-feed refreshed, I saw a headline about people not recognizing the Declaration of Independence when NPR sent it out yesterday on Twitter, mirroring the on-air, Independence Day broadcast NPR has done for 29 years (according to the article).
Now, believe it or not, I do try to stay away from social media. I do not understand how people can choose to broadcast their lives for all to see on these sites. That being said, you cannot be a Geek in this age without being aware of social media to some degree, and so it is that I have a basic awareness of Twitter. For those of you who may not know, Twitter restricts its users to 140 characters per post. I really do not see the appeal of it, to be truthful.
At any rate, let’s examine the math. Including spaces, the Declaration of Independence has 7,983 characters. At 140 characters per post, that’s 58 posts…assuming NPR didn’t include the list of that venerable document’s signatories. Part of me wants to know how long it took some poor intern to carve up one of our founding documents into 140-character snippets for posting on Twitter, but on the whole, I applaud NPR for the on-air broadcast and this Twitter campaign. I think it’s too easy to lose track of how we came to be who we are in this era of rabid, unthinking idealism.
My knee-jerk reaction to reading the article I linked above was that anyone who cannot recognize the Declaration of Independence (or at least its opening phrases) should not be allowed to vote. For one thing, I would think it’s imminently recognizable; no one writes like Thomas Jefferson. The thing is, though, knee-jerk reactions are seldom the best reactions…as an old friend as verbally beaten into me on occasion over the years (Yes, Ded, I’m talking about you).
I spent the afternoon periodically thinking about the article, and I do not think that anyone who cannot recognize the Declaration of Independence should not be allowed to vote. That starts us down a dangerous path, in my mind, and we’re already treading enough of those as it is. No…now, it just makes me sad.
It makes me sad for a couple different reasons. First of all, it’s the Declaration of Independence; what does it say about our citizens if a number of us don’t recognize at least the opening phrases of the document that started us down the path to becoming who we are? Beyond that, though, is something I stumbled onto while looking up the text of the Declaration of Independence.
The website ushistory.org provides a small biography for each of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence, in addition to the text of the Declaration of Independence itself. It is on the page for Thomas Jefferson that I read this:
Shortly before his death in 1826, Jefferson told [James] Madison that he wished to be remembered for two things only; as the Author of the Declaration of Independence, and as the founder of the University of Virginia.
If people don’t remember the Declaration of Independence well enough to recognize it, how can they remember its author?
Out of curiosity, I visited the website for the University of Virginia and sought the “About the University” section. The Overview page acknowledges the University’s founder in the opening sentence. I sincerely hope that never changes.