“Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present generation, to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
— John Adams
During this particular week, at some point, I will hear someone state that America’s Independence Day should be July 2nd. Usually, this is done not because someone has an intricate knowledge of American history, but because they heard an anecdote that is only half right.
On July 2nd, 1776, the members in attendance at the Second Continental Congress voted on a referendum to be independent of Great Britain. This was a big deal. The most famous quote regarding the 2nd of July came from John Adams, who said this date will be celebrated in the future with “shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Two days later, the members voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence. It was this document that became the epoch for the American nation. The proper day to celebrate was immediate in affirmation to Americans. With the war against the British in full vigor, many places in America celebrated the Declaration on July 4th, 1777. The “nation’s birthday” was cemented forever onward. The word ‘declaration’ became a proper noun for us.
The reason why the 4th became our day of celebration should be easy to deduce. The act of claiming independence from the most powerful nation on the planet was a truly bold and audacious occurrence. But they could change their minds. With a document, a declaration, which excoriated King George III, it was impossible to hide from their treason. The words were forged forever. As Benjamin Franklin famously said after the Declaration was adopted, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we will hang separately.”
It was in writing. It was tangible. They signed it…though not on the 4th of July. They sent it on a boat across the ocean. From that moment onward, in victory or defeat, that document was their legacy.
And then you come to us. Two-hundred-forty years later, we look back at that document as a solemn, sacred text. This is altogether proper. Not only was the Declaration of Independence an act of treason, but the words themselves, penned Thomas Jefferson, are a lesson in polemical writing that has only be matched in mastery by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and 2nd Inaugural Address.
But where are our great documents? What inspiring texts from our lifetime will be held up in perpetual veneration? Who among us will have our musings on the world we live in studied by future students of our era? Most of us do not write anything outside of the realm of social networking. Do you really want your tweets to be the everlasting posterity to your name and your times?
This is not a rhetorical question. Ask yourself:
If I died today, would I be comfortable with what I have on social networking stand as my legacy throughout time?
The old axiom, “you are what you eat” is now changed to “you are what you tweet.” Every single thing you have voluntarily put out there on the Internet is the legacy you leave to those who search you out for lessons in history. If that does not make you consider a “purge” of your posts, you are either the most boring person alive or you actually want future relatives and cultural anthropologists to think you were an obnoxious oaf.
Recently, my brother showed me a video that he transferred from tape to digital. It was a family gathering for Easter and I was 17 years old. It was the most vulgar, repugnant thing I ever viewed. Was I really that weird back then? It is a good thing I have matured, eh? Wow! I had to walk away from that video in disgust. I want my brother to destroy that video. I never want to see any videos from my youth again. Leave it dead and buried.
What have we left historians to sift through in order to write the story of us? Tweets. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams engaged in an encompassing correspondence in the twilight of their lives. The words they shared with each other about the world-changing events they shaped stand as a testimony to their times. What we have left the world is “hot takes” and “trolling”.
Not exactly worthy of a soaring John Philip Sousa score, is it? “Politician X is worse than Hitler. Pig!” just does not seem like something that will be taught in political science, history, philosophy or anthropology classes in the year 2216.
We will all long be dead when the cruel judge of history will decide who we were and what our value was to humankind. The best we can do is delete our mean tweets, rambling, drunken Facebook posts and the what-was-I-thinking Instagram photos. We have the power to mold, as best we can, what we leave behind for the executors of posterity.
Those brilliant, brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew what affixing their names to that document would mean if their rebellion failed. They knew the power of the words in that edict could have them hang by neck until dead. The final words of the Declaration reads, “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.”
We owe these men everything. We justly honor them and the document they agreed upon on July 4th, 1776. I doubt future generations will feel the necessity to commemorate the banality we are leaving behind on social networking. That is to our eternal shame.
Originally posted in Cache Valley Daily. Reposted with permission.