My wife went to "Hamilton" last night...without me.
Oh, I'm jealous, all right. She got a chance at a single available seat that opened up among some family members, so I don't begrudge it. But I'm jealous anyway.
Tickets are a hot commodity, so I've been getting my fix of the Founders by reading the Federalist Papers instead -- the essays penned by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.
I've always had a soft spot for Alexander Hamilton -- I chose my AIM screen name in honor of the act that established the Treasury Department, of which Hamilton was the first head. But I also have a soft spot for James Madison -- one that has grown particularly as I've re-read the Federalist Papers.
We have Madison to thank for the idea of limits -- of automatic, built-in constraints on government. More than any other of the Founders, he had a granular and intuitive grasp of how to control ambitions through checks and balances
But we have Hamilton to thank for thinking big. He was the Founder with the grandest vision of things. Sometimes it went too far (like with his enthusiasm for an expansive executive branch), but he also saw great things ahead for a country that had unity of purpose, as well as unity of government.
The thing we ought to consider this Independence Day is just how little it was that the Founders started with. The whole population of the United States at the time of the first census (in 1790) was less than 4 million. It's almost identical to the population of Oklahoma today.
Oklahoma has just five Representatives in the US House.
For all our habits of deifying the Founders, of thinking that they were extraordinary people whose kind won't ever be seen again, they came from a population so small that it's comparable to the greater Twin Cities metro. Or of Iowa, if we were to get aggressive and annex the City of Omaha.
That's not a huge population. In fact, it's downright tiny in comparison with our national population today of almost 330 million.
By those numbers, we have about 81 times as many people today as the Founding generation. And, if you believe like I do that we not only have better education today than they did, but also that thanks to improvements like better nutrition, better prenatal care for mothers, and just the sheer progress of science and technology since that time, then the odds are pretty good that we have at least the same quality of sheer potential brainpower as they did.
Oh, and we're also smart enough now to more fully appreciate that women and minorities are also equally likely to be geniuses.
So that means I think it would be extremely conservative to estimate that we have, among us, at least 81 potential Hamiltons. And 81 potential Madisons. And 81 potential Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Adamses. And 81 Monroes and Hancocks and Reveres.
And, God help us, 81 Franklins, too.
The Founders were pretty brilliant. I wouldn't dare suggest otherwise. But we have brilliance in our own time, too. I'd wager that we have at least 81 times as much brilliance. And probably much more -- double, at least, if only we count the contributions of our women.
So, in 2018, there is no excuse: No excuse for small ideas, for paranoia, for retreat from a challenge.
The Founders came -- all of them -- from a talent pool barely larger than that of our own state of Iowa. Every last one of those names we revere today (to the point of writing blockbuster musicals about them) came from a starting population that could be represented today by just five seats in Congress. And they were only open to hearing from the smart white men among them.
So when you hear that a problem is big today -- fixing an obscene budget deficit, reforming entitlement spending, stopping an opioid crisis, making sure that an economy grows for everyone, training and retraining workers, curing cancer, or treating refugees and asylum-seekers like human beings when they cross a border -- does any one of those problems strike you as more challenging than starting a country as a breakaway republic from a powerful empire at a time when muskets are the weapon of choice, every boat is a sailboat, and high-speed communication is a guy on a horse with a lantern?
Those Founders deserve massive credit for planting the seed that became the most powerful and advanced nation on Earth. But for every one of them then, there are at the very least 81 of us now with equal giftedness.
Don't tell me our problems are too big. They aren't. It's our imaginations that are too small.