The American Revolution profoundly influenced the later development of the United States. To appreciate that influence and understand the relevance of the Revolution to our own times is a challenge to every citizen. To respond to the challenge is vital, for an understanding of the past is necessary to meet the problems of the future. It is not given to a single generation to acquire wisdom if it ignores those who came before. The men of the Revolution knew this. When they faced the revolutionary crisis, they sought guidance from the past, from the writings of Roman historians and philosophers and 17th-century Englishmen—Algemon Sidney, Sir Edward Coke, and, above all, John Locke.
As the founders profited from history, so may we. Almost before the Revolution ended they began to write its history—to record the events and clarify the ideals for posterity. We are posterity. If we would attain to wisdom and to an understanding of our heritage, we must understand the American Revolution. For surely an awareness of the magnitude of the sacrifices and an appreciation of the timeless quality of the ideals that brought our country into being will strengthen us as a people.
Many paths lead toward historical understanding. If they are true paths, they enter into the reality, into the presence, into an intangible yet authentic feeling of historic events and the men who made them. Of all the approaches to history, perhaps none communicates the past more directly and universally than physical evidence. An authentic structure or historic object in its original location can convey a sense of history unmatched by books or pictures. To stand in Independence Hall is to become a part of what happened there. To visit Morristown or Valley Forge is to enter into the lives and hardships of the soldiers of the Continental Army.
Few have the imagination and genius of a Parkman, but nearly all of us respond to the great scenes of the past. Visiting them heightens our awareness. It is our good fortune that a substantial number of the places associated with the history of the American Revolution have been carefully preserved. The people of the United States, acting as individuals, in private groups, and through their local, State, or national government, have wisely set aside historic sites and buildings or erected memorials where the Americans of almost two centuries ago acted out the drama of the War for Independence. Because of the foresight of all those who have contributed to the preservation of American Revolution historic sites and battlefields, we may look forward to the opportunity during the Bicentennial to recall the events that brought us independence and freedom and to reflect on their modern relevance.
The American Revolution was more than a war—more than colonies declaring separation from the mother country. It was genuinely a people’s revolution, a painful conflict that took its toll in divided communities as well as on the field of battle. The force of its ideas carried to many lands, and America became a model for men seeking a better world. The end of the war did not diminish the impact of these ideas. As Tom Paine foresaw, “The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind. . . . ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected even to the end of time by our proceedings now.”
Young men predominated among those who made and fought the American Revolution. Their ideas appeal to youth today. Their strength emanated from beliefs that still underlie American ways: that all men are by nature equal, that liberty is “inhered naturally in the people,” and that the power to govern is legitimate only when given by those over whom it is to be exercised. Consequently, it is in the tradition of America to question authority, to distrust it, and to give it constant scrutiny; to restrict the use of power over the lives of men; to grant status to men for their personal qualities rather than their lineage; and to raise institutions that express human aspirations rather than deny them.
Source: Report of the Secretary of the Interior to the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission: Published by American Revolution Bicentennial Commission 1970