In June of 1785, Thomas Jefferson was living abroad—an experience that made him hunger for all things American.
Urging his friend James Monroe to visit him, he wrote: “It will make you adore your own country, its soil, its climate, its equality, liberty, laws, people & manners. My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy. I confess I had no idea of it myself.”
People who like to quote Jefferson sometimes leave off that last sentence, but to me it is the most astonishing—and in a way, the most fundamentally American. Because in America, nothing seems more natural to us than the freedoms on which this country was founded.
Imagine—less than a decade after he wrote the Declaration of Independence, even Mr. Jefferson admitted to not appreciating the “precious blessings” of his new country. Two hundred and thirty years later, it is all the easier for us to take those same blessings for granted.
July Fourth is our collective opportunity to remember—and no one, of course, remembers better than Colonial Williamsburg.
As we busily prepare for this weekend’s festivities, I hope that we can all find a few moments to reflect personally on the freedoms we are gathering together to celebrate. As Americans, we have the freedom to live where we wish, practice the religion we wish, vote for whomever we wish, and work a job that we love. We have freedom from fears that cast a dark pall over life in too many parts of the world—where people still look to America as a beacon of liberty and proof of a better way of life.
Being an American is a privilege—though we all know our Nation’s work is far from finished. We aspire each day to form a more perfect union, and the results are better some days than others. But it is our determination to continue striving that defines us, and that ties all of us to America’s first generation, whose extraordinary words and deeds we honor here like no one else can.
My best wishes for a happy July Fourth. May it be an inspiring one for us all.
Mitchell B. Reiss
President & CEO