Today, I sit here having recently returned from a trip to Germany and Austria. Over 10 days I tried to absorb as much history of those countries as possible. Both have had volatile histories of over a thousand years of wars, alliances, revolutions and ever changing borders. Like our country, both were shaped by migrations and immigrations of people from every direction of the globe.
Next week our country will celebrate its Declaration of Independence written 240 years ago and our American Revolution. Having just learned of the contributions of so many diverse people to the history of Germany and Austria, I was curious about the diversity of those who helped our country gain its independence from Great Britain. What I learned is that our revolution was a messy affair involving politics, economics and religion. People lined up on both sides of the issue of independence.
We hear a good deal about our founding fathers who were the political leaders of the revolution. Most of these leaders were white men whose ancestors came from Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. But our country was already a more diverse melting pot of not only western and northern Europeans but also eastern and southern Europeans, Native Americans and Africans.
Those who came here freely came because this was a land of greater religious and political freedom than the lands they left.
The people who took a stand for independence and served the cause in many ways, including giving their lives, included men and women of all colors, native Americans, Europeans, Africans, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Free Quakers, Reformers, Episcopalians, Baptists, Jews, Deists and Atheists.
Ethnic and religious groups have often struggled to get along. We have a shameful history of enslaving African Americans and annihilating Native Americans in the name of manifest destiny. These human failures must never be forgotten so they are not repeated. Despite our failures, tolerance of diversity of race, ethnicity and religion was the ideal this nation was founded upon and has remained the ideal we cherish. People who promote hate, exclusion and bigotry do not speak of American ideals.
What a great history of diversity we have. Let’s celebrate our freedom to live in a diverse and tolerant county this July 4.