Some of my fondest memories from growing up in Massachusetts came while enjoying Patriots Day with my family. We got up before sunrise, arriving in Sudbury just as a horseman rode into town proclaiming, “The British are coming. The British are coming.” The church bell would toll; soon the village green would fill up with Minutemen.

As a family, we would spend the morning following the marchers, stopping at cemeteries along the way to salute fallen soldiers, ending up at the Old North Bridge in Concord. I was there in 1976, when President Gerald Ford celebrated the 200th anniversary of the “Shot heard round the world.”

While talking about the state of the nation (in 1976), President Ford said, “The world is witnessing revolutionary technological, economic, and social change — a massive and rapid breaking of barriers. We must summon higher, greater values as we proceed. These higher values are found in the principles of this Republic, forged by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence.”

No matter the year, be it 1776, 1976 or 2009, we remain in the midst of a revolution. Like 1976, we now face the prospect of nations toying with nuclear weapons, a challenged economy and debates about civil rights. If our Founding Fathers could have been transported to 1976 or 2009, what would they think about the America they helped create? What would they Twitter about?

Jefferson would certainly be disappointed that we have yet to live up to “All men are created equal.” We are a nation that still tolerates many forms of discrimination. Women earn less money for doing the same work as their male counterparts, homosexual men and women do not share the same rights as heterosexual couples. The poor have less access to health care and are not afforded the same educational opportunities as those who are better off.

Recent events would also certainly cause some Founding Fathers to scratch their wigs. They would undoubtedly be disappointed by the Patriot Act. The irony lies in the fact that there is nothing patriotic about warrantless wiretapping and spying on our own citizens (at home and abroad). One of our greatest guarantees as American citizens is that we will not be imprisoned without being charged with a crime. All the other freedoms are meaningless, if government could simply jail anyone it wished, for any reason, at any time. The single greatest accomplishment of the Patriot Act, its legacy, is its ability to trample on the Constitution.

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Compared to what they saw, I believe our Founding Fathers would consider today’s political world pretty tame. Anyone who gripes about the current state of bipartisanship should remember that Vice President Aaron Burr got into a duel and killed Alexander Hamilton.

I suspect many early Americans would be surprised at our most recent presidential election. During the Continental Congress, one of the most contentious discussions concerned the status of slaves. It would not have crossed any of their minds to see a black man and two women running for higher office. While they would be surprised by President Barack Obama, some of them would also be proud of the progress our nation had made.

And while not always civil, recent public debates, be it during the presidential campaign or about same-sex marriage in Maine, would cause many of them to smile. Open discourse, the ability to speak one’s mind, free of retribution was a clear goal of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. It has been achieved.

Despite any shortcomings, our great nation still affords its citizens opportunities that can not be found anywhere else in the world. As a nation we should be proud of our accomplishments, yet not so complacent that we fail to make further progress. In other words, I think the Founding Fathers would be happily pleased with our current nation. 

And they would warn, as they should, that we still have much work to do. 

Will Fessenden is a past chair of the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee, considers himself a “community/grassroots organizer” and serves on several nonprofit boards and committees. He works in Auburn and lives in Sabattus with his wife Jennifer and their two boys. E-mail: [email protected]  


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