July 4th, 2026, will mark the 250th anniversary of our great Republic (the “semi-quincentennial,” if you’re counting). America has endured internal contention, foreign conflicts and a horrific Civil War. In spite of these challenges, we remain a nation that – though not without its flaws – remains an inspiration to millions of immigrants to shake off oppression and travel to our shores to seek a better life.

Several of my ancestors fought and died in the Revolutionary War – one was Captain Isaac Baldwin, who fell at Bunker Hill. They left their comfortable homes and businesses to risk it all, on the promise of a simple, forthright declaration: “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.”

America truly was an experiment, and a risky one. Such experiments had been attempted before, ending in failure and deadly retribution. The Founders understood what they were getting into; as George Washington recalled, “The establishment of our new government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness.”

In creating this new construct of government, our Founding Fathers concluded that a dangerously all-powerful government could not promise to solve all the people’s problems for them. Instead, they envisioned government as a participatory system that empowered the people to solve their own problems — lawfully, of course, but in the way each individual thought best. Thus, by design, they designed a system never before seen on Earth — balanced on three main axes: Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances and a Limited Government.

Placing the people — not government or royalty — at the core of governance was what made America, the Great Experiment, truly exceptional, but also uniquely vulnerable to social fragmentation. How can a citizen be totally free if their identity continues to be set in stone by previous prejudicial social constructs such as creed, race, cultural tradition, and ethnic roots? Our Founders’ answer was to enact a civil society where free citizens would create a new sense of “shared community” by assigning to each and all the responsibility to labor together and solve problems by consensus, regardless of their diverse backgrounds.

The Founding Fathers were neither gods nor angels. They were complex, conflicted and, yes, flawed men who were sufficiently fed up with autocracy to venture this great experiment at the risk of losing their lives, families,and possessions. They faced a narrow window of opportunity and acted with alacrity and courage.

America is by no means perfect, but at least we are still the masters of our individual fate. Today’s America is not as repressive as some claim, nor as libertine as others say. Luckily, we retain the freedom-loving foundation that was laid for us, but it’s up to us to keep it. We will never achieve perfection, but that was never the intent. May God bless and protect America.

James R. Poplar III, of Quicksburg, proudly served with the U.S. government for over 40 years. He specialized in national security affairs at both Vanderbilt and the National Defense University.