History is our guide

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

by Randy Forbes

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

We find ourselves at a critical moment as a nation. Uncertainty and political tension hover, not over “surface level” issues, but over core tenets of who we are as a nation: the empowerment of individual citizens, respect for the rule of law, and dedication to a well-guarded peace, to name a few.

As Americans, we often look towards invention and creative concepts to bring us through critical moments and into a new era.

We should be proud of that approach ­– it brought us the light bulb, the automobile, the airplane, the moon, and the iPhone. It continues to drive our nation to new heights in technology, energy, science, and medicine.

Yet, sometimes we need more than a vision. We need more than an inspiring speech to push us collectively from one moment to the next. Sometimes, there are moments when the answer for our future lies in our past.

Why is history so important? It reminds us who we are. Like a parent, it keeps us humble and proud at the same time. It carries with it both inspiration and responsibility. The collective memory of the past makes us wiser for the future. In our history, we find limitless options.

For me, the answer to the future for America lies in the very first chapter of our history. It lies in the history of 56 inked signatures on a document that changed the world. It lies in the story of men and women and children who watched a nation born out of chaos and uncertainty into peace, order, and prosperity. It lies in the bells and bonfires that went up that summer day in July when the publication of the Declaration of Independence laid the foundation that has guided us for centuries.

A framed copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs on the largest wall in my office, surrounded by individual portraits of the 56 signers. It serves as a daily reminder to my staff and to me of the magnitude of the responsibility we have here in Congress, and as American citizens.

It’s a visual representation of the shoulders upon which we stand. It calls to mind the sacrifices that were made in the first chapter of our history.

This week, we celebrate that history. July 4th offers us a time to collectively look back at where we’ve been as a nation. We remember our forefathers’ fight for independence. We remember the circumstances that led us to create a representative government. We remember the source of our inalienable rights. We remember the importance of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We remember how Independence Day changed not only our history, but also the history of mankind.

The Fourth of July offers us an opportunity to calibrate, to center ourselves.

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

We could learn a lot from this. The greatness of a nation comes from its foundation. Our legacy, our values, and our foundation have sustained us for 238 years. The world’s longest surviving written charter of government will never be broken down from the outside.

If it is broken down, it will be because we allowed it to be compromised. Let us remember where we’ve been, for it will guide us forward. And let this Fourth of July inspire us to continue the story of our nation in such a way that would make our Founding Fathers proud.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see http://randyforbes.house.gov.