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Reflecting on the American Revolution

      A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of experiencing the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. The museum is relatively new, and boasts several exhibits that weave into one another to create a roadmap of the events surrounding our nation’s birth. Relics and pieces of art from the past dot the walls and create an atmosphere of awe. Several rooms show depictions of events with wax figures and interactive screens. Entering one room I was followed by a voiceover explaining the artifacts kept in the glass cases and the deep significance those seemingly mundane objects once had. This was all very interesting, but the thing that struck me was how familiar it all felt. There was political propaganda demonizing the rebels and the crown. There were great speeches and imposing personalities. The American revolution saw a longstanding social order challenged and contested. The world began to see enlightenment principles in action, and for better or for worse, they have endured.

      Around campus and online I hear very often that “our country is more divided than ever before,” but is it? The modern age differs from the past in that it is dynamic. Life has always changed, but more than ever, life changes so quickly. It is not unreasonable that many people have seen the political conflicts in this country become more palpable, but it would be naive to assume they are new. Common knowledge would have us believe that the revolution was a mostly unitary effort on behalf of the colonists, but in reality, the revolutionaries were political outsiders who were fighting for the political support of the colonies as much as they were fighting the british army on the field. British loyalists were extremely prevalent outside of more elite circles, and most of the country remained neutral. Of the major Native American tribes involved, only two supported the revolution, with the rest siding with the British. To many African slaves, “freedom wore a red coat.” Even as the war ended, immediately the former brothers in arms split into multiple conflicting political factions. It was not certain that this fledgling country would survive its infancy.

      Freedom was won, but not for all. Women’s rights were a distant idea, and countless black Americans were still in bondage. There was an idea expressed in the museum’s introductory video that framed the revolution as not just a war to succeed from the British empire, but as an ongoing idea that has existed throughout our nation’s history. The seed of liberation existed when they wrote the words “all men are created equal,” and in time that seed grew into an idea that tore the United States apart in a war fought over the institution of slavery. With women’s’ suffrage in 1920 and the voting rights act in the 1965, the right to vote, and thereby participate in government was extended to all. Some might even argue that this “revolutionary spirit” drives much of the social transformation we see today.

      In the past year, there has been so much argument over the course the country has taken. In many places it has devolved into outright violence. It can be terrifying to go to sleep every night wondering what the world will be like in the morning, but I hope we can rest a little easier knowing that we are not the first, and we will not be the last to feel that way. There will be hard times, and sometimes things will seem hopeless, but there is no good without the bad. It is through this struggle that we have grown and will continue to grow in the years to come.

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