“Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” This inscription on the Jefferson Memorial from Jefferson’s autobiography shows how difficult it is in life to truly embrace living a principled life. How you feel about Jefferson’s ownership of slaves does not change the juxtaposition of a slave owner penning “that all men are created equal.” While this has been a primary focus of attacks on America’s founding and the Founding Fathers themselves, perhaps we need to focus our attention away from Monticello and to the legacy Jefferson left behind. We will never know exactly how Jefferson felt, whether he was truly torn or fully embraced slavery, but what we do know is that he put pen to paper and helped found a country dedicated to individual liberty. A country that at its’ core and principle believes that being human is more than enough to give you rights.
As much as we try, it is human to fail. Despite all our talk, efforts and bravado, every single one of us will not live up to our words. We will disappoint ourselves and those around us. Even the apostle Peter swore he would never deny Jesus, yet by that time the next day he had denied he knew Jesus to three strangers. In the moment he thought he had no other choice. The difficulty in living a principled life is that too often we sacrifice the long term for the short term; we get caught up in the passions of the moment instead of reasoning and matching our beliefs with our actions. The pressures of fellow man and a fallen world will always play heavily upon our principles.
All this to say that I do believe freedom will always win out. I like to think that I can live a life entirely on principle, maybe I can, maybe I will fail. But what I should never do is give up, and instead learn from my failures and dedicate myself to becoming better. For many of us, President Biden has given us a moment to act on our principles: get the vaccine or lose our jobs. While this certainly is not a moment that will be written about in decades to come, it is still important. It is the small decisions, the everyday habits that shape how we will act when truly faced with difficult choices. History is so often made in the small choices that often lead to a revolution. These decisions are much easier when we know we are not alone. I am not the only one faced with this decision, and I know many principled people who will also stand against this tyranny. Dictatorial men like Biden only succeed when the people become isolated and withdrawn from their fellow man.
Peter could have given up and quit; he could have gone back to being a simple fisherman. Instead, he helped spread the gospel and was murdered for doing it. One founding father believed so much in this that he gave up the power to be a king. It is difficult to understand how much of a “big deal” George Washington was at the time. But when George Washington stepped down and stepped aside for John Adams and peacefully gave away his power, it was an act so principled and so profound that until FDR, every single president honored his act that they never served beyond two terms. Men like Jefferson and Washington made small choices each day (some we may disagree with and even their fellow founding fathers disagreed with them) but it is clear through their writings and their penning of our founding documents that man’s inherent right to freedom remained at the forefront of each choice made. Let us unite in that and find strength in freedom’s fortitude.