Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. He was a great man, a man who helped create America. Without him, America would not be what it is today. He authored the Declaration of Independence, a document that outlines democracy’s aspirations, laying the foundation for a young nation. During his presidential administration, America doubled in size when the United States representatives to France, instead of purchasing only New Orleans, as they were directed, purchased the entire Louisiana territory. Standing on top of Monticello, I thought about this great man, his paradoxical life and everything he accomplished. I felt as many do, questioning how someone who so eloquently and devotedly advocated for freedom, could acquiesce to building his own life on the backs of slaves. I certainly understood how he became one of the greatest political minds of his day. The setting of his home was both idyllic and serene. I pictured Thomas Jefferson surveying the surrounding country, looking out over the Blue Mountains and his plantation. I imagine that there was quite a bit more hustle and bustle when Thomas Jefferson was working there, but I also assume that it was a fantastic place to think, learn, and discover. At a dinner in April 1972 honoring Nobel Prize winners from the Western Hemisphere, President Kennedy stated that he thought “this [was] the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” The first picture is of a garden maintained at Monticello. It is 1000 feet long. When Thomas Jefferson lived here he frequently experimented with his plants. He grew 330 varieties of vegetables and 170 fruit varieties. The second picture is of Monticello’s backyard. The third picture is of Monticello’s front entrance. The fourth picture is a view from the grounds out across the valley. I think this is absolutely beautiful. The last picture is a closer view of the back. The final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads as follows: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Thomas Jefferson spent a significant portion of his life building America. He helped lay the foundation for the great country it has become.
Independence Day is a special day. It’s the day we celebrate everything that is great about America. Independence Day represents America’s ability to overcome tyranny, to struggle through oppression, and to constantly strive towards an ideal way of life for its citizens.
America has had its growing pains. It took over 80 years to abolish slavery in a country founded on the struggle of freedom from oppression. While Constitutional amendments were passed shortly after the Civil War, it took around 60 years for women to win suffrage and close to 100 years to legislate fair treatment through the Civil Rights Act. America has engaged in a persistent, internal struggle between ensuring national security and protecting individual rights. Starting with John Adams and the Sedition Act to the National Security Agency’s recent prying. These are just two examples. America will continue to face challenges long into the future.
Given these problems, why should anyone look to America as a model of anything? America commits its greatest resources to preserving freedom. When freedom has been threatened in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, or South America, the United States has deployed diplomats, committed finances, and, when necessary, provided armed forces to combat tyranny. America lifts. It sends resources to nations ravaged by floods, typhoons, droughts, and wildfire. It works to establish the rule of law in places that have been governed by the will of tyrants. America will continue to support and fight for what it thinks is right–freedom, equality, justice.
Many people, both within and outside of America, criticize the United States for its stumbling imperfections. Theodore Roosevelt answered these critics this way:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
This is not to say that there is not room for a spirited debate. Freedom of speech is one of the many things that makes America great. It means that for at least one day a year, I will focus on everything that makes America great. I love America for its rugged spirit, for its enduring optimism, and its relentless striving towards lofty ideals. America is not a perfect country. It has a long way to go on a lot of things. While America has its challenges, there is no place I would rather be.
One way to achieve personal independence is to grow your own food. Almost everyone can grow something somewhere, even if it’s just in a pot on the windowsill. If you live in an apartment, in the city, in a suburb, or the country, you can grow something. Gardening can teach self-reliance, the value of consistent work, and the satisfaction of a job done well. Most importantly, it can help you become independent.
I have a dream that someday I will own enough land to have an orchard, big garden, cows, chickens, and pigs. I want to be able to grow enough of my own food that I only have to rely minimally on grocery stores. I don’t know if that’s something I’ll ever achieve, but for the past several months, Mrs. A and I have been conducting a gardening experiment on our apartment’s balcony. One small step towards independence…
We started with one pot. It is an EMSCO Group Raised Bed that we bought from Lowes for about $30.00. It holds a reservoir of water in the bottom of the pot. A plastic net over the reservoir keeps all of the dirt from falling into the water, but the dirt does reach the bottom in every corner. The corners suck the water up from the reservoir and disperse it throughout the planter. The black plastic on top keeps the weeds out and the moisture in. All in all, it looked like a good system.
Here are a couple of pictures from our first week: