Every year around this time, I marvel at what the generation that founded our country accomplished. On July 4th, we celebrated the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The major principle put forth in that declaration was simple, clear and powerful: the signatories declared that every person had natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The objective of those who signed the Declaration of Independence was clear: They sought a society that would protect the dignity of the individual as a pre-eminent consideration, balanced against the need to provide equal protection for all. Like all human endeavor, our practice of this principle has been flawed. We have worked over the past 238 years to expand and improve upon it, and we continue that work today.
Through all of this, notwithstanding the differences of opinion that existed then and those that exist today, the clear objective established by the Declaration of Independence has provided a tough, flexible connective tissue -- a framework for dialogue -- that binds us together as a country. Other countries have not been so fortunate. The French, for instance, celebrate their own revolution on le quatorze juillet, or the 14th of July. Specifically, the 14th of July is the anniversary of the storming of the medieval fortress and prison known as the Bastille in 1789. The Bastille was the symbol of royal authority in Paris, and the uprising there was the spark that ignited the French Revolution. But the French Revolution has a different legacy than our own: it replaced royal tyranny with a succession of tyrannies in other forms. The rhetoric sounds similar to that of our own revolutionary period, but the result was far different. From the Jacobins and their Reign of Terror through the Directory and Napoleon's Empire, the results of the French Revolution did not match the rhetoric. The rhetoric of liberty was hijacked by a series of despots -- individuals and groups -- who co-opted the revolutionary fervor of the people to serve their own ends, persecuting those who did not conform. From the earliest days, America's leaders compromised for the sake of national unity. The one time we could not compromise we went to war with each other.
There is a lesson here for all of us today. The greatest danger of tyranny for Americans is not a tyranny advanced by an army marching from a foreign land. Rather, the tyranny we must guard against is the tyranny of our neighbors, cloaked in the words of patriotic fervor and liberty. How can a people know when the words they hear truly reflect the motives of the people who speak them? One test is certainly whether the actions accompanying the words are consistent with a society that protects and balances the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all individuals. But this test alone is also subject to rhetorical manipulation. We need something more. George Washington, our first and only non-partisan president, gave us the clearest litmus test in his Farewell Address when he cautioned us to carefully guard our national unity as our most precious asset. Any group that seeks to advance its interests in a way that disdains compromise and undermines unity must be viewed with skepticism. All national parties -- Democratic Party, Republican Party and especially Tea Party -- currently fail this second test. If you have pledged allegiance to one of these parties, I ask you to read Washington's Farewell Address and reconsider your allegiance.
The sheer brilliance of what our ancestors accomplished is breathtaking. The objective was simple, clear, and powerful. It enabled a generation of passionate leaders to overcome philosophical differences and craft the first framework for our government -- the Articles of Confederation -- and then replace that framework with version 2.0: our Constitution. And that Constitution has within it the flexibility and power that has allowed successive generations of Americans to adapt as we have confronted new technologies, philosophies and dangers. Even today, attempts to create an enduring framework for government elsewhere in the world fail more often than they succeed. We don't have to look far to realize how precious a thing is this republic we have inherited. Each of us must do our part to protect it. I humbly submit that protecting our republic means restoring our capacity for compromise by electing officials not aligned with national parties.
"The words of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are only as good as the sum of our individual efforts to make the policies and practices of our government conform to the spirit of those words." -- Accountability Citizenship
Running for Congress in Utah as an unaffiliated candidate, Stephen Tryon was a Senior Vice President, Human Capital Management for online retailer Overstock.com. His past assignments at Overstock.com included managing the company's logistics operations and international business. He joined Overstock in 2004 after 21 years as a Soldier. While in uniform, Steve served as the Legislative Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army, Director of Plans for the 10th Mountain Division, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the United States Military Academy, and commander of a company of paratroopers. He holds degrees from the United States Military Academy and Stanford University and is the author of Accountability Citizenship (2013).