Just when we need them

Our Fourth of July brings to mind a man who rejects our celebration. And men and women on a tiny island. And people who grow into oversized roles into which they get dropped.

The man was an Englishman whom I took to a Fourth of July celebration in Cooperstown. After the band played and politicians proclaimed and veterans fired volleys I asked if he enjoyed this slice of Americana.

“It was quaint,” he said. “But I felt uncomfortable. After all, this was an English colony.  It rightfully belonged to England.”

I told him he must be joking.  But he was deadly serious. Next time you come across a southerner who still mourns the loss of the Confederacy 150 years ago, think of this Englishman and his resentment of England’s loss  233 years on.

As for our revolution, we have many expressions that deal with men and women rising to the occasion. Leaders so often step forward to fill vacuums. Frequently, people who possess just the qualities we need appear just when we need them. This is true in all aspects of life, including business, family matters, the running of countries.

On the Fourth I think of Jefferson, who appeared when we needed a Declaration of Independence. He created a document that has stirred billions of people. It remains the penultimate expression of the yearnings of those who desire freedom. It is as pertinent today as it was the day he penned it. To the word. To the peoples of the world.

Adams, Franklin and others grew to be giants at the hour when the colonies needed giants.  Franklin, with sparse education, negotiated with and cajoled and outmaneuvered leaders from the most powerful nations on earth.

Had we not had a revolution these men would have no doubt led lives of some distinction. But it was the demands of the times that brought out their finest qualities. It was the demands of our Civil War that brought forth the timeless compassion, good judgement and wisdom of Lincoln.

President Clinton has complained there were too few major crises for him to show us his mettle. A natural thought for one who feels he was born to lead nations. He and others will forever wonder how he might have handled 9/11. Or the near meltdown of the world’s financial structure.

When FDR died, Truman could easily have been overwhelmed.  He said later he felt the sky and stars had crashed upon him. Haberdasher, machine politician of modest achievement, he was forced to lead us in a world war. He was soon sitting at tables with Stalin and Churchill, carving up countries and figuring who would rule millions of souls. After the war he was burdened with the mopping up, writing a constitution for Japan, rescuing countries threatened by communists. Heady stuff for a man of such humble origins and achievements.

He quickly grew into the job. Today he wins the admiration of most historians for his courageous moves, his forward thinking. If people ten years before predicted Truman would horse-swap chunks of the world, fashion the Marshall Plan, draw the line in Korea, etc. they would have been laughed out of town.

When I think of this phenomenon, this rising to the occasion, I think of the tiny Caribbean island of Anguilla. In the 1960s, Britain had yoked Anguilla with two other islands.  Anguillians broke away from them and declared a sort of independence. Over the next few years they negotiated with various countries. They outfoxed, confused, enraged and wore down the Brits until Britain agreed to take Anguilla under its wing while allowing a large portion of home rule.

The island had no power, six cars, barely any roads, no piped water or electricity, an economy that was mostly checks in the mail from Anguillians abroad. Yet from the ranks of only a few thousand people a cadre of extraordinary leaders stepped forward. They negotiated resolutely.  They wrote agreements with a world power. They created a parliament, a school system, wrote laws, fashioned a social security system. They created a country.

They were ordinary folks like those who live in the next small town you drive through. When the times demanded it, they grew to be courageous leaders who made sound decisions that changed the course of their society. Just as those ordinary folks did here, along the way of becoming our Founding Fathers.

They should all remind us that - forced by circumstance - so many of us are capable of bringing about things of which we can scarcely dream.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.                  

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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