“Has any country ever so publicly and consistently flogged itself for its imperfections and failures? Do these imperfections mean that America is fundamentally unjust, or that it was falsely founded?” Steven F. Hayward, Patriotism Is Not Enough*
America was the first country in the world to be founded on ideas and ideals. Every country before was, and mostly continues today to be, amalgamations of geography and ancient tribal associations. The Founders set before us ideals of freedom, representative government, equality under the law and protection of individual rights. The bold proclamation in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution certainly were based on the foundation of earlier work and compacts like the Magna Carta, but for the founding of a country to be based on these ideals was more revolutionary then than we can imagine today.
Does that mean that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were suddenly birthed full-grown in America when the ink was dry on the Declaration of Independence? Of course not. Slavery continued to exist in the country almost another century. Women were not allowed to vote for another 150 years. We, as a country, have failed over and over to live up to the Founders’ ideal, just as they did in their time.
But the great genius of what happened at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was that the attendees produced a concept of government that was greater than their individual shortcomings. They put in motion a never-ending quest for a government that would live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.