We have heard these words all our lives. But can we still hear the dynamite in them? According to tradition, when the British under Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, their musicians played “The World Turned Upside Down.” The American victory over Britain was more than a military victory; it changed everything.
The world in those days operated on the basis of utter inequality. The self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence contradicted the entire experience of mankind. Whether the ruler was a king who claimed to rule by divine right or an emperor who claimed the mandate of Heaven, it was everywhere the same. Because the Founders’ idea of government by, for, and of the people is so deeply engrained in our imaginations, it is difficult for us to conceive of human life as it then was.