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In Still the Best Hope, Dennis Prager argues that American values — roughly, the small-l liberal values that underlie the Declaration of Independence and U. S. Constitution — demand to be exported. Elsewhere, Prager describes these values as the American Trinity: the beliefs in a transcendent God, in liberty, and in the emphasis of culture and values over ethnicity or race. These values, he says, can be adopted around the world and integrated into existing national identities. We can quibble with the definitions and the choice of words, but Prager’s onto something profound here.
While there’s much Americans — or those from Anglosphere countries with similar values — can and should do to help others, the ultimate burden falls on those elsewhere. Doing so often takes tremendous effort and even great courage. July Fourth seems as a good a time as any to honor those who’ve risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to further the ideals exemplified by the American Revolution.
For starters, I’ll nominate Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817). Kościuszko is one of those figures whose biography is too rich to summarize easily, so what follows is only a very rough sketch (cartoonist Kate Beaton gave the task an effort here; it’s great if you don’t mind a little language). Born a Polish-Lithuanian noble, he emigrated to the United States in 1776, where he served in the Continental Army as an engineering and a combat officer. He oversaw the fortification of West Point, fought in the South Carolina campaign under Nathanael Greene, and befriended both Washington and Jefferson. If you’ve ever been to Monticello, you’ve likely seen his famous portrait of Jefferson.
After the war he returned home, where he became active in liberal (old sense) Polish politics, and advocated against serfdom, beginning with liberalizing the obligations of his own serfs at great personal expense. He later gained a commission in the Polish army and won a number of impressive-but-pyrrhic victories agains Tsarist and Prussian forces. When King Stanislaw decided to throw in the towel, Kościuszko refused and — after a brief exile — returned and started a peasants rebellion (wherein — I’m not making this up — most of the peasants were armed with scythes). Though he again won a number of small victories, he was eventually wounded and captured; the rebellion fell shortly thereafter.
After being freed by the new Tsar, he returned to the United States, then went back to Europe to continue to work for Polish freedom (though he refused to aid Napoleon). To the end of his days, he continued to work both for Polish nationalism and against serfdom.
Kościuszko’s story is unfortunately, a sad one — to top things off, the poor guy had a very unlucky love life — but there are happier ones. Which other non-Americans best exemplify American values?
Image Credit: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsPublished in