Thomas Jefferson's Nightmare

Posted: Nov 30, 2007 2:00 PM

Last Independence Day, I was reflecting upon a Forbes magazine column, in which many of us celebrities and other notables were asked to answer the question, "What is the American Dream?" How would you answer the question? Here is how some others answered:

Tom Brokaw replied, "To me, the American Dream is the freedom to choose to live how and where you want, to determine how you'll be governed and to provide your children with even more choices than you had."

Kurt Russell believes, "The American Dream has changed -- now I believe it's a wish for freedom at no cost, an existence devoid of scarcity and free from judgment of any kind."

Condoleezza Rice said, "The American Dream is being dealt with and considered on your own merits."

Ted Turner said, "The American Dream is very similar to the dream of people all over the world who dare to dream of prosperity and a high consumption lifestyle, a dream which has become very difficult if not impossible to sustain."

Donald Trump responded, "The American Dream is freedom, prosperity, peace -- and liberty and justice for all."

In summary, for most responders, the American dream is to get what you want, to be who you want to be or to do what you want to do. In almost every case, the dream is a selfish ambition intended for our personal benefit, but it's not necessarily given to us to help others.

Personally, I think it's much more meaningful than that -- something I wanted to comment more about than Forbes allowed us the space. I believe the American dream is not something we've invented, but something we've inherited.

When our Founding Fathers created our country, Thomas Jefferson penned that dream in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" is so much more than fulfilling our own dreams, doing what we want and feeling good; it's about using our God-given potential to make a positive difference on this planet.

I used to think the American dream could be obtained through the accumulation of possessions, positions and prestige.

The truths that were self-evident to our Founding Fathers eluded me for too long.

Our Founders didn't put their dreams or security in material abundance. George Washington had to borrow money to get to his own inauguration. Thomas Jefferson died $100,000 in debt. Most of our Founders lived modestly, were willing to share what they had and even contributed to government to build up other Americans.

Thomas Jefferson could have been speaking to a 21st-century America when he said, "Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the path of destruction." Wow, what a statement and warning!

Jefferson, as well as the other Founding Fathers, feared we would forget what freedom was all about and stray toward selfish greed without morality, integrity and service to others. Has their fear not materialized in our day?

The one constant in life was our Founders' security and also the source of all things in the declaration: their "Creator." Our founders trusted not in the supply but the supplier to acquire life, liberty and happiness, and they encouraged us to do the same.

There's a verse in the Bible that summarizes it for me: "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy."

God is our national treasure, buried in the sands of history and believed in universally by all America's Founding Fathers. And he can be our treasure, too, if we only rediscover that he is still at the heart of our Founders' dream for this country.

When you've got God, you've got the gold -- and all you need to achieve and experience the American dream.