Four hundred years later, America stands tall

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy birthday!

America celebrates its quadricentennial this weekend with an array of events at Jamestown, site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Few decisions of man have had a greater impact than the one that brought settlers from Europe to the shores of America.

Four hundred years ago, three tiny ships left England on a mission to convert the inhabitants of this New World to Christianity, while exploring ways to promote commerce between the continents. The events they set in motion when they anchored along the banks of the James River sent ripples throughout the centuries that followed and into every corner of the world, and even beyond.

Surely, it was impossible for those early settlers, many of whom wouldn’t even last through the first Virginia winter, to understand the magnitude of their actions. History usually doesn’t work that way. Events of apparent immediate consequence are judged more accurately through the lens of decades of passing time, which sometimes proves them to be truly momentous, more often trivial.

As they settled in to life in a strange land, those explorers and missionaries found themselves much too busy dealing with the unpredictability of their new lives to concentrate much on the changes they had wrought on the global political climate. Indeed, from the perspective they had, such changes were slow and tenuous, and the advances they made against tyranny often were offset by the tyranny and oppression they themselves visited upon Indians and blacks.

In the long scope of history, however, the nation founded by those imperfect beings four centuries ago shines as a beacon to those who seek freedom. It has been the catalyst for and even the agent of revolutions in thought and deed in both hemispheres and on every continent. It still represents the promised land for oppressed people across the globe, and its ideals continue to inspire.

Establishing an outpost in the New World gave those bold settlers a base from which they could proselytize the Indians, start up a new economic engine and enjoy a degree of safety from the wars and persecution that had become so well-known throughout Europe. The fruits of their labors have been much of the best of what humanity has to offer.

Happy birthday, America. Despite what you may hear of late, you have plenty of reason to stand up and be proud.