What foresight those American rebels had back in the late 18th century - that's what we're thinking this Independence Day. Did any other major revolution get it so right, in terms of coming up with a system of government that would last so long, with so much consent of the governed?
In the days of rumblings and grievances before the American Revolution, an idea grew that the American colonies, instead of just demanding justice and respect, should secede from Britain and go it alone. Back in England this was considered both treacherous and laughable.
On this side of the Atlantic, however, the heated debate and the emerging Continental Congress and Army were gradually swaying more people to the side of independence. They and their ancestors had come for opportunity and freedom - more than their old countries could provide. They resented the king and Parliament's cracking of the whip to remind them who was boss, and they were thinking in reply, "What are you going to do about it?"
It took a long time for the Continental Congress to shift from demanding fairness, as royal subjects, to declaring independence, and even when it came to that, it faced severe opposition.
Fact was, American colonists had it pretty good. England exerted its authority here and there, but with it so far away, and with its empire stretched all over the planet, the colonists enjoyed a relatively large degree of opportunity, prosperity and benign neglect. That wasn't the case a few years later with the French rebels, who had been oppressed into grinding poverty by a flagrantly rich nobility, or the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutionaries.
Rather, a large number of Americans had enough freedom, education and prosperity to see how things could be better without the royal hand of the king on their necks, and they gambled that they could win independence by fighting a vastly more powerful, but distant, empire.
The American Revolution was born less of desperation than of hope.
Those American soldiers who died in the Revolutionary War would probably be wonderstruck with how it turned out. We don't have dictators or monarchs. Power shifts peacefully from one elected leader to another. Our leaders, for the most part, do what they think the people who elect them want. The American model has inspired and changed the world.
Perhaps most importantly, the people of this nation continue to live by our system - apparently because they like it - and have upheld our Constitution for the 225 years since it was ratified, amending it over time through the prescribed process. We have only had one civil war, which was reconciled and which stands as a bloody reminder to solve internal disputes peacefully.
Granted, governing the United States has been messy from the get-go, but that was inevitable since our system has always relied on compromise to get things done. The framers of the U.S. Constitution were wary of tyranny of the majority, so they built in checks and balances such as strong executive and judicial branches, and a bifurcated Congress. On the downside, these lead to gridlock, but they also, over time, ensure stronger policies.
We saw that in action last week in the wording of Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Supreme Court majority that upheld the bulk of the controversial Affordable Care Act. In asserting that the act's individual mandate, which requires people to buy health insurance or pay a fine, is constitutional as a tax but not under the Commerce Clause, Judge Roberts reminded us that we still live under the rules of 1787. Even back then, his swing vote would have sparked national uproar and debate, but here's the key: Then, as now, the decision would stick because, like it or not, Americans will abide by the rules. A nation of so many people needs to make big decisions and therefore needs rules. Our system works because Americans generally agree our rules are fair, and because we generally follow them - because we want it all to work.
Why do we want it to work? At the very least, because we are committed to this country and want peace and freedom within it. Everyone knows the U.S. is far from perfect, but really, it's a wonderful place. We love it, are proud of it and continue to be amazed how well designed this unprecedented experiment was way back then.