For those of us who have experienced both the national fireworks display on Big Washington’s mall and the Fourth of July celebration here in Rappahannock County on Thornton Hill Farm, there is no comparison. One is definitely bigger. The other is better.
Here we actually know the people putting on the event. And of the organization — the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Company — we have personal, sometimes heartfelt, knowledge. We ourselves sometimes act as volunteers to make the event happen, and our local bank and other familiar faces are the sponsors.
At the event itself we bump into not anonymous strangers but, rather, friends, family, acquaintances. If we don’t know someone, that unfamiliarity doesn’t last long, as friends of friends are introduced.
The same goes for all the firemen’s carnivals, parades, and similar events throughout the county this summer.
Historians and political scientists often ponder the never conclusively answerable question of the how and why of the Declaration of Independence. How could it possibly have happened that such sparsely populated 13 colonies 234 years ago could produce the truly gifted and courageous individuals that signed the Declaration? And the population pool of Virginia, which produced arguably the most great men, was of course even smaller.
Where are such individuals today? Surely the U.S. population, now magnitudes bigger, would logically produce even more great, if not greater, men than in 1776. But where are today’s George Washingtons, Thomas Jeffersons, James Madisons? It’s a common lament.
Such great men (and women) may indeed be in our midst, however. We just can’t recognize them. Why? Here are two hypotheses:
(1) The skills needed to rise to the top in a mass culture are those of celebrity and public relations, not individual integrity and intelligence. (2) Even if today’s Madisons, Jeffersons, or Washingtons could make themselves electable, would they then be able to lead? Are our interest groups too many and our society so complex that we’ve become simply too big to be governable on a national level?
Rappahannock County’s smallness can provide an important civics lesson.