For blizzard-battled sports fans in Washington, D.C., it is some comfort that the reporting of pitchers and catchers, the official heralding of spring training for a new Major League Baseball season, is in a week. Spring training provides a structure to get in shape, both mentally and physically, for all who desire to play the game competitively. Fundamentals of baseball first learned by 8-year-old Little Leaguers are relearned and drilled to achieve automatic execution to perfection. The rules of the game and their implementation become embedded second nature to each player likely to succeed.
The American public needs an annual “spring training” for achieving our country’s mission of” life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” Fundamentals of this mission need to be learned, relearned, and drilled to become embedded second nature to each person in our country likely to succeed, both as individuals and to the betterment of our nation. Why is this so?
Just as baseball is a uniquely American sport played over a long season requiring constant conditioning, the founding and existence of the United States is unique to the creation of any other nation, whose continued opportunity for achieving its mission requires the constant consciousness and vigilance of its citizens.
The founding of the United States was unique nation-birthing in many ways. First, from ancient times, most nations were formed around dominant tribes, which likely subjugated lesser ones in the same land. The emphasis of governance was primarily ruling and controlling the most numerous group in a given society. The rights of individuals, besides those in authority, to live their lives as they saw fit, was given little consideration. Second, when such societies formed colonies, governance from the mother country was heavily in control—essentially state-run operations. Moreover, societal dictates, such as state-sanctioned organized religion, were strictly imposed. Often these colonies were populated by the command of the state, not voluntarily.
Thus, in the 16th century, when the French and Spanish monarchies established North American colonies along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, and St. Augustine in Florida, settlement was primarily a security measure to protect government territorial claims of (alleged) riches—inland Canada for France and Cuba for Spain. Not surprisingly, the population of neither colony increased much during the 200-year control of the two mother countries; there was little voluntary migration.
In contrast, the 13 British colonies founded in the 17th and 18th centuries along the Atlantic coast reflected more decentralized control and governance from the home country. To be sure, the British monarchs and Parliament played favorites dispensing land grants and mercantile entitlements to court allies and royal family friends, but, mostly let daily colonial government alone until the fateful decade leading up to the 1776 American Revolution. This relative laissez-faire governance by London allowed the flowering of individual freedom unmatched by any other society—whether in pursuit of religious beliefs and/or economic improvement. During colonization, these freedoms blended together in thirteen different “mixes” to form applied idealism, manifested best by the pilgrims’ “shining city on the hill” with the rugged, reasoned risks of the frontier. While many in the colonies did not share these freedoms (due to slavery and restrictions on property rights), an ever-increasing portion did.
It is not surprising then that during the 150 years of colonization, the British colonies voluntarily increased significantly in population, with upwards of 500,000 individuals willing to brave the unknown in pursuit of a better life. For the first time in recorded history, mass migration of individuals, as compared to those of tribes and societies, had commenced. Fittingly, this significant nascent trend created a new commonplace word in the English language—“immigrant,” to migrate to a new country/region to live; heretofore, only “emigrant” (or emigre, derived from the French) to leave a country/region previously lived, often because of political conditions, had general use. Thus, the sample, but profound lesson language: individuals had reason to seek proactively their destiny in anew land friendly or not at least non combative to their pursuits, rather than simply fleeing the excesses and controls of a land dominated by the governing state.
The founding of the Unites States enriched these mixtures of blended freedoms. It was the first nation formed out of a colonial rebellion from the mother country. It was the first nation with a written
constitution, with designed checks and balances among prescribed branches of government within a federal structure of individual states, with an ever-changing frontier for its western border. And as the principal driving force behind the rebellion and new republic, it was the first nation consciously formed on the basis of individual freedom.
Yet, as the Founders presciently warned, this “grand experiment” of government and society based on individual freedom could only successfully continue if the American people continued to understand, believe, and seek lives based on the fundamentals of individual freedoms.
There is much to learn and relearn about America’s founding based on fundamentals of individual freedoms. Just as with Little League baseball, most of us begin our exposure to the birth of our nation in elementary school, but over time we tend to forget or poorly execute. Just as the pros of baseball, we need our spring training to achieve America’s mission. It is along season, and we do not want to miss a single game.
Alex Beehler is the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Environment, Safety & Occupational Health) at the United States Department of Defense.