“There’s no backing out now, for if we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
– Benjamin Frankling, 1776
Coming towards the end of this classic musical, Franklin is offering a darkly humorous remark on how they need to remain true to each other, and to the commitment they are making. It’s a moment of levity which is very much needed for the members of the Continental Congress as they step up and commit high treason against the King of England by declaring themselves to be free and independent, with a formal declaration of such that lists the reasons why they are, and why they must, do this, signing it with their names as they mutually pledge to each their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. One does not simply come back from that.
Indeed, in the true history of my nation’s birth, several of the Founding Fathers paid heavily for their sacred pledge. At least two were captured and suffered ignominious fates at the hands of their former rulers, and others lost fortunes and family members alike, including their own offspring. The price of freedom is high, and such an expenditure can only be sustained through the unity of many people dedicated to the cause of liberty.
That is why those who seek to undermine my nation are calling upon one of the oldest tactics in the world: divide and conquer.
We are divided by strife over wealth and class, over race and color, over ideas and ideology, over faith and religion… heck, we seem to be divided over fandoms and fashions! We tear into each other over movies, music, sports, clothes, and other such tiny trivialities! And then, when it comes to things we genuinely think are moral issues, like the environment, or racism, or various inequalities, we pounce without mercy and refuse to bend, refuse to listen, which all comes out to refusing to think.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Freedom, true freedom, is the unleashing of the individual, not its submission. To that end, we cannot, must not, and will not ever become identical to one another, not in our possessions, our appearance, our way of thinking, or our forms of expression. And that is the real strength of unity. It’s not turning us all into the same person, it’s bringing all the differences together to form something far more powerful than any one person could ever hope to be.
The Founding Fathers fought each other over the idea of independence. They fought with their words, and they literally fought each other with their canes on the floor of the Continental Congress. But somewhere out of all that combating with one another arose a loyalty to each other, as each one brought what they had to the table and offered the whole of it to their shared cause. Something very similar happened later on, with the creation of what became the Constitution of the United States of America. Once again, men gathered, bringing all of their passions and prejudices and flaws and strengths, and together they hammered all of their wills into one great endeavor.
Americans have fought each other a number of times since, in the ending of slavery, in the ending of Jim Crow, in the building of a mighty economy, in the recovery from devastating depression, in the advancement of women’s rights, in the invention of new and competing technologies… we never really have been “at peace” with each other. But for all our squabbling, we have consistently united in the face of all kinds of ordeals, including famine, disease, disaster, war, and all the evils of the world. We have watched each others’ backs and trusted each other when it counted. We have fought constantly, but we have also listened to each other, and slowly changed when we found ourselves to be in the wrong. And that has made us mighty.
We need to be mighty again.
We need to stop tearing into each other and start listening to each other again.
We need to stop dividing ourselves over everything and start looking out for each other again, including the people we disagree with.
We need to unite. We need to hang together. Or we may well hang separately, alongside our cause.