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1776: On “Forgetting Our Former Love”

July 4, 2010

Of the many remarkable accomplishments of that historic and literary document, the Declaration of Independence, we understandably overlook the words edited from Thomas Jefferson’s drafts of June, 1776. Living in Philadelphia, it’s easy to imagine the delegates’ discomfort July 1-4th, in the beautiful but sweltering rooms of Independence Hall, windows and doors closed to maintain secrecy.  To view the document, signed August 2, 1776, brings fuller appreciation of the reality that these brave delegates were committing treason, and had potentially signed their own death warrants. But what is harder to grasp were the conflicting feelings these delegates had; the ambivalence that each one of us has felt upon separating from a former lover, spouse, parent, or friend.

Jefferson elegantly summed up these feelings of loss: “These facts (in the abuses cited against King George III) have given the last stab to agonizing affection (to the British people), and manly spirit bids us to renounce forever our old friends and brothers.  We must endeavor to forget our former love for them. We might have been a free and great people together.” Like a divorce, our American Revolution was both the beginning of a dream and the end of one too.

Because in my clinical practice I’m witness to many more divorces than revolutions, I encourage spouses who are trying to forget their former love, not to devalue them, not to hold children hostage, but to be noble, as it were, in the proudest tradition of our revolution.  And to refashion, as we have with Britain, a relationship in which it’s possible to grow old with conciliation and even dignity. Jefferson would be honored.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Diane permalink
    July 4, 2010 2:54 pm

    This is certainly a fitting blog for the 4th. Having just completed an american history class and studying the original Declaration written by Jefferson and before Franklin added his edits, I think you captured a wonderful comparison to modern love and divorce. Thank you again for your insightful words.

  2. July 4, 2010 3:33 pm

    Hi Diane,
    What a great refresher it must have been to study the original text of the Declaration, as you’ve done. I’m sure it made the period come alive. Thanks so much for reading, thinking and commenting on this micro-slice of our legacy as Americans and how we can apply it to our everyday lives and loves.

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