By Peter R. Breggin, MD
First published on Huffingtonpost, October 13, 2009
That’s the title of my new book: Wow, I’m an American! How to Live Like Our Nation’s Heroic Founders.
Some of my friends can’t even bear to say, “Wow, I’m an American!” Such unbridled enthusiasm for our nation offends their sensibilities. Perhaps you feel that way, too.
If you are one of those who can’t bear to think or to say, “Wow, I’m an American!” I hope you will read the book. It could change your life — not only your political views but also how you live your everyday life and make your everyday choices. “Wow, I’m an American!” is about the Founders, what they fought for, what they believed in, how they lived their lives, and how we can improve our own personal lives by applying the same principles and ideals.
I can hear the cynics, “You mean, we should own slaves like half the signers of the Declaration of Independence?”
No, the Founder’s weren’t perfect people — but their principles and their ideals are as close to perfect as human beings have ever come. And as the implementation of their principles has expanded throughout the world, it has set free millions of human beings.
These same principles, although born in a land plagued by slavery, led to the end of slavery in the Civil War. These principles fueled the fight for universal suffrage and then for the overall expansion of the rights of women. These principles inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, and prepared the way for the election of Barack Obama. The very survival of the world depends upon these principles.
What principles? The principles of liberty and responsibility. Individual human beings prosper when they have the freedom to take responsibility for themselves, their families, and their community.
That’s the starting point — the freedom to take responsibility. But in researching Wow, I’m an American! I was struck by two other principles that guided the lives of the Founders. The first is gratitude. George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Ben Franklin, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush, James Madison and, at times, Thomas Jefferson—each declared that God was active in the War of Independence, and in subsequent events as well like the writing of the Constitution, as well as in their personal lives. Each believed in expressing gratitude for what had been achieved politically and personally. I show in Wow, I’m an American! that George Washington had a humble opinion of himself and an exalted opinion of his Maker. The same can be said of the others, from Ben Franklin to Ben Rush. Even Thomas Jefferson, at times the consummate skeptic, expressed fear that God would judge him for participating in slavery and even side with the slaves in a successful bloody revolt.
The second surprising principle is love. Many of these husbands and wives loved each other dearly. Every one of them was passionate about life—everything from their everyday lives to America and the great cause of freedom. And they were passionate about us.
What do I mean by “they were passionate about us”? To an astonishing degree, the Founders joined together to fight not only for the independence of the colonies but for the freedom of humanity. They expressed this idea in the Declaration of Independence, and repeated it again and again in their documents and throughout their individual lives. They often thought about posterity and what they were bequeathing to humanity. Even as they were fighting for their own survival and freedom, they looked forward to a time when liberty would spread throughout the world. They literally believed they were fighting for all of us who be born in the future.
Revisionist historians have painted the Founders as opportunists—wealthy white men aggrandizing themselves. With rare exceptions like Samuel Adams, all the signers of the Declaration of Independence were very successful men who owned property and enjoyed enormous respect in their communities. Ben Franklin, for example, was personally wealthy and he was the most respected American in the world. John Adams was a successful lawyer and a respected citizen of his community. Like Franklin and Adams, each Founder risked everything, including life, liberty, and property, by signing the Declaration of Independence and then by supporting the War of Independence. For mere selfish motives? In reality, their lives were already successful, and now they were risking everything they had achieved and possessed, including the lives of their families. These are the kind of people who usually support the status quo.
As the war dragged on, many were hounded by the British and by loyalist Americans. Their homes were sacked and burned, and their families put to flight. Many lost fortunes and some were imprisoned while others lost their lives. Until the very end of the lengthy and miserable war, none could have felt confident of victory. And yet, not a single Signer or a single wife of a Signer ever reneged. And not a single one has been identified as profiting from the war.
“Wow, I’m an American!” Yes, some folks reading this will reject the idea of waking up each morning feeling proud to be an American! We’ve taken the “wow” out of America. It’s time to put it back. It’s time to be proud to “Live like an American!”
Where do we start? With the founding principles of freedom and responsibility — principles that have set free millions of people around the world and still provide the basis for the greatest nation in the history of the world.
In the belief that simplicity is the test of truth, I’ve written this book in style that can be understood and enjoyed by the whole family.
I will end with an organizing theme of my book, what I call The Primary Principles:
Take responsibility at all times.
Express gratitude for your gifts and opportunities.
Become a source of love.
Peter R. Breggin, M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York. His most recent book is Wow, I’m an American! How to Live Like Our Heroic Founders. It can be purchased on Internet bookstores like Amazon.com and B&N.com, and at a discount with a bonus interview on Dr. Breggin’s website, www.breggin.com.