I have just finished best-selling author Ron Chernow’s 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton upon which the wildly popular Broadway musical is based.
I remember from my middle and high school classes that Hamilton, along with George Washington, James Monroe, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others, guided our independence from Great Britain. Then these Founding Fathers led us through the transition from 13 states with Articles of Confederation to one nation united by a central government with the U.S. Constitution and a Bill of Rights.
What I had not remembered was the acrimony that existed among our Founding Fathers, the outright hatred, the vile verbal attacks and physical fights among our first generation of national leaders. The practice of dueling, which caused Hamilton’s death at age 49, was far more common than I had recollected.
It is truly remarkable that we became a nation, that we ever agreed on a document to bind us, and that such an amazing experiment in republican democracy succeeded and survived the bloody Civil War that would follow eight decades later. Even our founders had grave doubts that we could endure the first 30 years.
We tend to see in every current crisis and every controversial issue an indication “it’s never been this bad.” The sense of alarm, even doom, grows.
Honestly, if you examine our history, it’s really been worse, much worse. We have survived inept and debauched leaders, serious moral failings such as human slavery, foreign threats and needless but costly foreign entanglements, demagoguery and financial depressions. Yet we’re still here, still strong, incredibly prosperous.
Our system works. The checks and balances work. Heroes step forth, statesmen and stateswomen emerge. Individuals and large groups with moral vision and great courage move us forward.
I choose to believe Alexander Hamilton was right. The hand of the almighty God was at work in 1776. I believe God has remained and still very much remains in this experiment of democratic rule. I have something better than optimism; I have hope in God and in what God desires for us all. We will survive.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Coates is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at 770-534-7354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.