By Erich Reimer
Reimer is a Captain in the United States Army stationed at Fort Lee. He previously served as a government affairs lawyer and media commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are his own and not those of the Department of Defense.
Soon Americans will be celebrating the birth of our nation over 243 years ago. In the fires of the Revolutionary War, on July 4th 1776, the Declaration of Independence spelled out a new path – not only for Virginia and the other colonies, but soon we would see for the whole world as well.
It is worth remembering this Independence Day the proud role Virginia had in sparking the light of human liberty that would soon blossom through the country and the world.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, came from idyllic Monticello in Charlottesville. Of the first five Presidents of the United States, four — George Washington, Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe — were Virginians.
The “Virginia Declaration of Rights,” ratified just a month before the Colonies’ Declaration of Independence, would greatly influence the latter. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom inspired the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights that has safeguarded American pluralism since.
A Virginian, Peyton Randolph, served as the first and third President of the Continental Congress. Of the 14 Presidents of the Continental Congress, three were Virginians – the others being Richard Henry Lee and Cyrus Griffin.
It was Virginia where the commander-in-chief of the budding United Colonies’ Army, George Washington, hailed from and loved. It was here he would decisively defeat the British in the Yorktown campaign and that led to the end of the Revolutionary War and the cementing of the American experiment.
John Marshall, our nation’s fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the one who defined the institution and the foundations of American law, was a Virginian. In later centuries he would be followed by other distinguished chief justices from Virginia, including William Rehnquist and Warren Burger.
Virginia, at the time, was not just the “Mother of Presidents” but in truth the driving force behind American society at the time. In the 1790 United States census Virginians consisted of 19.2% of America’s population, along with many of our biggest cities, far and ahead the most populous state with Pennsylvania coming in second at 11.2%.
That tragically included those Virginians bonded to the abomination of human slavery and who at the time accounted for 39% of the Commonwealth’s population. Virginia also was far larger then, including the counties that nowadays we know as West Virginia.
Nowadays the legacy of our founding era comes in the form of the many universities from or named in honor of our Founders, the estates they left behind, as well as the beautiful Virginia State Capitol that Jefferson himself designed and built. Every county and town of our Commonwealth is full of history as old as this country itself and I know for me it is a blessing each day to breathe it all in.
Virginia nowadays is a very different Commonwealth from what it was those centuries ago. It has grown, morphed, and changed in dramatic and beautiful ways. It is had many moments where Virginia had to itself consider what its roles in the creation and support of human freedom meant with its own practices and structures.
Yet despite all that, Virginia has made it through and now stands as the vibrant, optimistic, and strong Commonwealth it is today. We had a GDP of over $544 billion in 2018 and are a leader in the nation in markers such as GDP per capita, economic growth, percentage employed, technological and business innovation, and much more.
Virginians should be proud of the fundamental role this Commonwealth and its people played in the birth of this “City Upon a Hill” that has now become the world’s biggest military, economic, cultural, and moral superpower. As the years move forward undoubtedly Virginia and its people will continue to play a key guiding role in America’s, and the world’s, path, to the benefit and prosperity of all.