A Letter to the Authors of the Declaration of Independence… and Their Response
On June 27, 1776, the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence were gathered to discuss the document’s latest draft, when a brilliant flash of light emitted from a table in the middle of the room. As the mist dissipated, a small, futuristic device encased in frost sat on the table. As the men stared in shock and anticipation, the lid opened, revealing a small, rolled up scroll of paper. Thomas Jefferson approached the box and unfurled the hand-written note, and read it aloud.
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We are fellow Americans from the year 2020, and we are eager to talk to you about the Declaration of Independence. We have gone to great expense and grave personal risk to build this time-traveling device to deliver this letter of hope and desperation for the sake of our great country.
First, take pride in knowing that your great acts will become the template for the world. The thirteen colonies will grow to become fifty states, spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. We will become the leaders of the Free World, whose values of freedom and liberty will have inspired people worldwide to rise up against oppression and to build thriving democracies. Even England will adopt many of these great principles, changing its own political system modeled in part on what you are establishing today, and they will become one of America’s greatest allies.
Your vision of essential principles of freedom, laws and governance will bring people from around the world to the United States, to seek a better life, or to escape dictators and governments that exploit its people. These immigrants will participate in “The American Dream,” to shape their own destinies, to become leaders of new ideas, innovation, and exploration. Americans will create advances in farming, education, arts and sciences. They will cure terrible diseases, save lives, and feed the hungry. They will build machines that fly people all around the world, even to the moon and back. They will invent communication devices that will allow every person on Earth to instantly see and talk to anyone else, to instantly learn of events worldwide, to share ideas on everything, from daily lives to science and politics and the arts.
But our success has also come at great cost: Many Americans are not able to participate in this American Dream, perhaps because of the color of their skin, or their religion, of their country of origin, or some of their personal choices. They are excluded from jobs, education, health services, or even fair and equal representation in government. These inequalities have been with us since your day, which you yourselves have readily acknowledged in historical records. And while there have been periods of improvement to bring civility to the oppressed, we keep slipping back into segregating our peoples.
We have fought many wars, but none has lost more American lives than our own civil war, which will take place less than 100 years from your reading this. Over 620,000 Americans will die at the hands of their brothers, all over the question of slavery. The war ended, and with it, the practice of slavery. But it was merely a military victory — no minds or hearts were changed.
Nevertheless, over time, some things improved. Though it took nearly 200 years , we passed laws allowing everyone to vote, including those of African descent, women, and anyone over 18 years of age. Laws were written to prevent injustices and discrimination against all people, not just a privileged few. But these have been met with limited success. Those of African descent could attend school alongside others, and some would become senators and congressmen, and one was even elected President. But the opposition to these developments outnumbers and overwhelms the limited successes a few have enjoyed. Laws are not equally applied by the executive branch, or interpreted consistently by the judicial branch.
The individuals responsible for these acts justify their actions on the basis of the very words you are drafting today in the founding documents. Phrases like “all men are created equal” have become empty, glowing generalities used for its emotional appeal that carries credibility, but without lack of specificity, their inherent vagueness has allowed them to be interpreted in whatever way people wish. Judges and congress alike have cited these words — and those throughout the founding documents — to be taken literally. The text itself. “Equality,” some have argued, is not universally applied because the words were written at a time when only Christian white men who owned property were eligible for these rights and freedoms. The truths that you believe to be “self-evident” are not as evident to those who wish to subdue other fellow Americans.
Our group represents a different theory, where your words are aspirational — they express a goal of freedom and independence for all people. We think of it as a living document, where its meaning and interpretations should be flexible to reflect the changing times and the wishes and aspirations of all citizens.
This is why we have sent you this urgent message. We plead with you to address this ambiguity, by refining the words in this precious document to take into account these compelling themes of inclusion. We are a country of men and women, of many different origins and orientations and persuasions; of many different religious beliefs, including those who do not believe in a spiritual entity at all. We the People have a duty and obligation to provide for each other, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, sex, or religion. To protect and preserve, so that everyone has an equal opportunity to experience the American Dream. We urge you to consider the powerful effect your document has, and to use this opportunity to improve the lives of all people, not just a few.
The device that appears before you is designed to return to us before your next day, but to us, only a moment will have passed. Yet, when it returns, the consequences of your decisions will be immediately known to us. Our history will have changed as a result of your actions, and only we who sent this message will know the difference. We hope, for the sake of our collective love of the United States and the citizens of the world, if not all of humanity, that you consider this plea carefully, to make our future — your legacy — one that is available to all humankind.
With Respect and Admiration,
Members of “The Project”
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On June 27, 2020, the members of The Project — scientists, politicians, journalists and historians — congregated in an auditorium to witness the launch of the time capsule with the letter. As quickly as it had vanished to travel to the past, it was back. The mist cleared, and the lid opened up. An elderly woman approached the table slowly, moving her head about to see different vantage points of the capsule, examining it as if it were a caged animal. When she was within reach of the device, she gently picked up the rolled up paper and unfurled it.
She looked up quickly and said, “This is not our document.” She paused and looked around the room. “They wrote back to us,” almost at a whisper’s volume. The room gasped. She looked up at the others, then back at the document, and began reading.
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To our fellow Americans:
As you read this, you are aware that history has not changed, as we took no action regarding your request. For that, we owe you an explanation, and humbly, an observation.
Your letter prompted very mixed feelings, all at once. Most men cried at the first mention that our country had lasted for well over 200 years. We were pleased to hear of the great accomplishments that our descendants had been able to achieve, and the positive effect we have had in the world. That such things could happen amazed almost everyone, but Mr. Franklin, who felt that such inventions would be inevitable. Yet, the news of the terrible civil war, of American killing American, all in the name of slavery, instilled a great, unsettled feeling.
To also learn that this same sense of inequality persists far into the future, subjecting many others to the same consequences, prompted intense debate among us. As students of history, you know well that in our time, peoples live with their own kind. It’s rare to mix with others in society, except for purposes of trade, commerce or political relations. That our new country established a new perspective on multiple peoples living and working together is beyond our understanding. We have no word for it. Yet, the results are undeniable.
You’ve accomplished a great deal, yet find that these base tendencies for people to remain with their own kind is, as we can only deduce, instinctive. Mr. Hamilton used the word, “tribal,” alluding to the people who inhabited this land before we arrived. Some were very open when we arrived, while others were fearful, protecting themselves from perceived threat. In many cases, for good reason, we recognize.
Yet, what surprised us most is why your advancements had not advanced you beyond that instinctive nature of fear or antipathy towards others? We would think that the ability to communicate with anyone in the world, to study and learn from others would bring such universal, abundant knowledge, should not all knowable things be known? Harms and threats and intentions could be easily and quickly understood, and falsehoods disproven. Yet, you tell us that “self-evident truths” are not as evident to others. We, here, wonder how that can be? How can one hide facts that are too easily discovered? If you can reach the stars and land on the moon, surely you could see the Earth and see that it is round, not flat, as many in our time still believe. Do you also have people who believe the Earth is flat?
Hence, we concluded that in your time, “truth” is not all that’s needed to move men, especially those who wish to subdue others. They don’t need or care about truth if their power can be found in passion of a tribal nature. We can only conclude that the problem is not with words, or even truth, it lies in a deeper place in men’s hearts than in their minds.
Indeed, here is where your time and ours are not that different. Mr. Jefferson’s next draft of the document will be presented to the Committee as a Whole on July 3, and it includes a passage that attempts to reprobate the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa. We, like you, feel strongly that slavery is not a palatable trade, which many of you may find strange, given that many of us own slaves ourselves. We cannot explain this easily to satisfy your quandary, since our world would be as unrecognizable in yours, as yours is to us. We can only hope that you also have things in your time that you disagree with, but nevertheless participate in, believing that your goals and ambitions will ultimately lead to a greater good. Perhaps it’s the treatment of animals, or of the land, or the sky itself that we here cannot possibly fathom. Are you doing harm to something now that you wish you weren’t, but don’t yet have the resources or political means to cease? If so, it may give a glimpse into our struggles as well.
This is our very problem regarding the difficult subject of slavery. We expect South Carolina and Georgia will reject our new passage, as they had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also felt a little tender under these censures, for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. So the Committee of the Whole is likely to reject this passage from our latest draft.
Yet, we must obtain approval from all colonies on this document, or these efforts will all be for naught, and we will have no country. We have no choice but to keep the document we have, and to continue the course we are on, for to do otherwise might compromise it from ever coming into being.
We wish that you not look to the past to solve your problems, but to your future. If you seek equality and self-evident truths, we are reminded by your letter that what moves men’s actions is not just the message, but the messenger. Choose your leaders wisely, and remember that progress is made with small steps; accomplish what you can, when you can. We encourage you to continue your fight for equality and dignity of the American people.
The Committee of Five
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When the woman stopped reading, she let her hands drop to the table, as if having just let go of a heavy weight. The room remained silent.
Then another sudden burst of light, and a cloud of mist. Another device appeared on the table, alongside the other. As the mist cleared, the lid of the new device opened, revealing another small scroll, but this one was a fine, silver transparency with hand-written words on it that glowed. The woman picked up the scroll, unfurled it, and read it aloud.
Ladies and Gentlemen of The Project:
We are fellow Americans from the year 2350, and we are eager to talk to you about Facebook…