“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches. We must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”
― Thomas Jefferson
A quote attributed to Yogi Berra is “I never said most of the things I said.” Thomas Jefferson might say the same thing if he were alive today, so I looked this one up and this is straight out of his published writings. Which assumes, of course, that the publisher’s historical sources can be trusted! In any case, the point remains a valid one today, well over two hundred years later.
If the ground of liberty is gained by inches, it also can be lost by inches. But as Jefferson admits, attaining a desirable state is an ongoing effort that will never reach perfection. Thus he wisely counsels patience and contentment, coupled with diligent and unrelenting attention. I think that’s an interesting and difficult combination to sustain for very long.
Of course, Jefferson was not always good at taking his own advice. How else could a man who argued against slavery be a slaveholder, or one who pontificated on the importance of honesty and integrity nonetheless father unacknowledged children by one of those slaves? How could a man who warned repeatedly against debt die so insolvent as to leave his heirs unable to keep his estate?
Apparently, he is a prime example of how often we fail to live up to what we know to be right. This underscores the need for a combination of patience and diligence. Whether it’s our country, our family or ourselves, we will be happier if we continue to hope and work for improvement, while recognizing our own fallibility and bearing with each other when we give it our best and still fall short.
As this Independence Day weekend draws to a close, I wish you a renewed awareness of our collective accomplishments AND responsibilities, whether your citizenship is in the U.S.A. or elsewhere. Celebrate the large and small victories, and press forward!
One year ago today: