We’re still here, long after declaring independence | Livingston

Our current culture wars are remnants of many grievances our nation has been trying to outgrow and manage.

We celebrated 248 years of declared independence on July 4. This is an amazing accomplishment in these testy and divided times. But strife, struggle, and division are nothing new.

We are still here, but do we ever consider deep in the minds of some in Britain, they are still mourning the loss of their colonies?

Do we ever think that maybe France wonders at times what could have been if they had not sold the Louisiana Territory? That purchase in 1803, for $15 million (about $420 million today) brought into our fledgling nation 828,000 square miles. Part or all of 15 states were created from that land transfer.

The 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty with Spain added Florida to our growing nation.

Texas, our nation’s 28th state, acts like it still has sovereign status. They have a swagger and let you know about their years of independence won from Mexico and holding proud nation status from 1836 until 1845.

While not front and center in the state’s current self-presentation, they were a port of entry for immigration to the West. Between 1846 and 1948, approximately 130,000 immigrants entered our country through Galveston.

Borders were often in dispute throughout much of our history and in 1846, Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Treaty, extending the international border between the U.S. and what would become Canada along the 49th parallel to the Strait of Georgia, and then out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Our country grew again as a result of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Mexico ceded 55 percent of its territory, including the present-day states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming.

Our nation survived a civil war in 1861-65 about the morality and economics of slavery. The moral and economic divisions that were underlying causes are still present today in racial distrust, xenophobia, and exploitation of labor.

The war was bloody, deadly, and divisive, but culture wars rarely end when articles of surrender are signed. Our current culture wars are remnants of many grievances our nation has been trying to outgrow and manage since we declared independence and ratified the Constitution as our guiding document.

Russia, in its twisted thinking, may believe our purchase of Alaska in 1867 should be rescinded. For those who need to know, the price was $7 million ($150 million today) or about 2 cents an acre.

Russia still has aspirations of empire, and they are not alone. China wants to be more than the second-largest economy in the world. Even North Korea, as small and poor as they are, provocatively sends missiles into the ocean reminding us they are there.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 continued expanding our horizons. The 1898 Treaty of Paris gave Cuba its independence, and Spain ceded Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the United States. An indirect result of the war was the eventual annexation of the independent island state of Hawaii.

The 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries were different times with European nations competing in their quest for new land and territory to claim and colonize. They never worried about the feelings of the concurred. It was about accumulating territory, power, wealth, resources, and cheap labor. They believed the land they were occupying was there for the taking.

We are a nation of immigrants who through a multitude of shaping forces claimed a unique territorial space occupied by indigenous peoples with their traditions and values. They were overwhelmed and tossed aside by an expansionist wave of immigration to a new world that held up a promise of freedom and opportunity for all who came — just not for those who were here first.

The political balancing act of becoming a nation, being a nation, and protecting our nation has always been complicated. We beam with patriotic pride for what we have achieved as a country. But, at this point in our journey, we must never forget the processes by which we achieved who we are, and with the recognition of time passing and a sense of humility, make emotional amends with those who were harmed in the process.

As we celebrate and enjoy the fireworks, the music, backyard barbecues, or time with nature in our land of expansive natural wonder, we must honor our roots — the people who were indigenous to this land, the immigrants who came before us, the immigrants who will follow, and especially the values laid out in our founding documents.

In the words of former President Ronald Reagan (remarks made at a Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation on Jan. 19, 1989):

“I think it’s fitting to leave one final thought, an observation about a country which I love. It was stated best in a letter I received not long ago. A man wrote me and said: ‘You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American.’

“This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at keithlivingstondesign@gmail.com.