Colorado 2006 and Pike 1806

(John Andrews in the Denver Post, Nov. 5) “Make your election sure.” So urged a mass letter I saw recently. It was not a voter turnout pitch for this campaign. It was the Apostle Peter writing to believers about heaven. The ancients put our instant-gratification culture to shame when it came to foresight. But for a middle view between biblical eternity and the political present, consider the sweep of two centuries. That’s how long it has been since the Zebulon Pike expedition, America’s first look at the mountains and plains we now call Colorado. And as we conservatives brace for unheavenly results on Tuesday, I believe the longer perspective can offer us encouragement.

Autumn 1806 in these parts was not kind to Pike and his men. Weather kept them from the summit of the peak that would later bear his name. Their exploration up the Arkansas River and then briefly down the Rio Grande (where Spanish authorities arrested them) never gained the same glory as Lewis and Clark’s voyage up the Missouri. Zebulon Pike died a hero in the War of 1812. A descendant and namesake, age 84, still lives in Salida.

It’s worth asking what President Thomas Jefferson, who bought this vast territory from France, would make of the civilization that has arisen here 200 years later. “We are acting for all mankind,” Jefferson wrote. Upon Washington, Adams, Madison, himself and the other founders rested “the duty of proving what is the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave its individual members.” Has their proving stood the test? How does Colorado measure up?

The debate over such questions as Ritter for Governor, Matt Dunn for State House, the defeat of Judge Marquez, immigration penalties under Referendum H or a cannibis carnival under Amendment 44, will be settled soon. The transcendent question of whether our state still honors America’s founding principles should concern us long after the election suspense is over.

All of us created equal, our rights to life and liberty endowed by God not Caesar, the securing of those rights by limited government, its derivation of just powers from the consent of the governed – these timeless truths as voiced by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence are the yardstick to measure by. While sidebar issues such as his agrarian dream versus Hamilton’s commercial vision are fun for parlor discussion, what really matters is “the degree of self-government.”

I’ll argue that no matter whether Democrats or Republicans win this election (his likely preference between them being another tempting digression for another day), Mr. Jefferson would be generally approving of our 21st-century Colorado republic. We respect individual rights better than in earlier eras or in other countries. We enforce limits upon government better than most other states. He would applaud our commitment to universal education and to religious liberty.

Yet there are things he’d see here that would trouble the Sage of Monticello. Our notions of group rights and multiculturalism would alarm him, as would the cradle-to-grave welfare state. Our schools, so gratifying to Jefferson in concept, would sadden him with the civic illiteracy of their graduates and the union mentality of their teachers.

He and all the founders would be shocked at our militant secularism, unmooring politics from “the laws of nature and nature’s God” so that marriage is mocked and babies are unsafe in the womb. They would marvel in horror at the indifference of our elites to mass invasion by foreign migrants across open borders. Their legacy to Coloradans, though well-kept overall, is jeopardized by such post-modern trends, I believe.

The hubris of progressivism with its “living” constitution was anathema to the men of 1776. They sought fixed principles for government because they saw human nature as fixed – and they were right. That’s why their appraisal of us in 2006 is important. That’s why we should cherish what Katherine Bates in “America the Beautiful,” penned atop Pike’s Peak, called their “patriot dream that sees beyond the years.”

Remember, Colorado is the state once known as Jefferson Territory. May his principles always be our unmoving political landmark, just as the rugged mountain was for Pike, according to his journal: “Never out of sight in our wanderings.”