Americans are being reminded how fragile and precious an achievement it is to establish the legitimate authority of government through peaceful and free elections. But there would be no ballots without the bullets of 1776. We hold elections in America because, as the Declaration of Independence says, we think “the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed.” But what divided the American people from the British Crown and Parliament in 1776 could not be decided by a vote alone.

Streets and roads are very different animals. Willie Nelson sang, “I just can’t wait to get on the road again.” No one ever sang, “I just can’t wait to get on the street again.” Songs about country roads hold spacious truths because whether they are red dirt roads or roads with seven bridges, country roads are rich with the mysteries of life.

Marlene Dietrich was born in Berlin in 1901. In 1930, her performance in the film The Blue Angel made her a star. She moved to Hollywood, starred in six films, one of which earned her an Oscar nomination. Many more films would follow. She refused lucrative contracts from Nazi Party officials to be the leading film star of the Third Reich, became an American citizen in 1939, and devoted herself to doing all she could for American troops during World War II.

Benjamin Franklin ran away at seventeen with barely a penny in his pocket. Through hard work and his own genius, he made a life for himself in the printing trade, and was able to retire at the age of 42. He then spent the next 42 years of his life, from 1748 to 1790, pursuing his scientific and philosophic inquiries and doing all he could—and this was a very great deal—to benefit his city, state, country, and world. By the time of his death, he was one of the most famous people in the world.

The son of an Italian immigrant, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1913. He played guard in the famed Seven Blocks of Granite offensive line of Fordham University in the 1930s before going on to become one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. His name is synonymous with winning. His steadfast spirit inspired the nation.

The Declaration’s great American proclamation that “all men are created equal” and the first three words of the Constitution—“We the People”—are profoundly connected. The relation between these two ideas—equality and consent—is the vital center of American political freedom.

We are not born understanding what it means to be an American, understanding the idea of political freedom, or knowing about the American Revolution. We have to learn these things. If we don’t, the American Revolution, political freedom, and Americans will vanish from the earth.

Great American philosopher, Lorenzo Pietro Berra, more commonly known as Yogi Berra, was a baseball legend. As a player with the New York Yankees, he won Ten World Series championships, with 18 All-Star games, three Most Valuable Player Awards, 358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in, which earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. After his playing career, he was one of a handful of managers to reach the World Series in both leagues. But Yogi Berra is best known for —Yogi-isms.

One of the most popular films in Hollywood history, “Casablanca” seems to be composed of one famous line after another. For over 75 years, it has inspired us to stand up and sing in defiance of tyranny and on behalf of the cause of freedom.

Billy Fiske was “the first U.S. citizen to join the Royal Air Force and the first American pilot killed in action during the war in Europe” in World War II. He was a New Yorker who had lived some years in Europe and who had won Olympic gold medals in the sport of bobsledding. He was a graduate of Cambridge University, and he told his British friends in the 1930s as they all could see the storm gathering in Europe, that if war came, “I want to be in it with you–from the start.”

More than 4 million visitors come to the Arlington National Cemetery every year from across America and around the world and, unless they have their own personal visit to make, the thing they most want to do is to climb the hill to the high ground of the Memorial Amphitheater and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

What makes Gettysburg America’s most hallowed ground? A delegation of Russian historians at the height of the Cold War seemed to know, when American historians had forgotten.

Frederick Bailey was born into slavery in 1818. With determination, courage, some help from others, and good luck, he managed to escape to freedom when he was 20 years old. He made his way to Massachusetts, gave himself a new name, Frederick Douglass, started working as a free man and very soon gave a triumphant first speech to an abolitionist group, which launched him on a career as an anti-slavery speaker and writer.

America takes pride in being a land of opportunity—for everyone, including those who suffer the impairments of nature, accident, or tragedy. For those with disabilities, local communities can be supportive. Smart technology can assist. Government can do some things to give them a hand up. Above all, there is the spirit and determination of the individual. And for the blind, there are — guide dogs.

An old friend of mine has written a book, a very good and deeply learned book, about America. The book is about those truths and the blessings that flow from them, that extend across and bind together generations of Americans in noble civic friendship.

In 1861, the young Mark Twain set out on a great American adventure, a stagecoach ride from St. Joe, Missouri to Carson City in Nevada Territory. Today, he would ride in an SUV guided by a factory-installed GPS system. The adventure would be even greater!

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams celebrate their last Fourth of July.

Most of us understand the language of poker, even if we’ve never played. We know what a “poker face” is, what it means to be “all in” or to “have an ace up your sleeve.” Since Kenny Rogers’s 1978 hit song “The Gambler,” millions of Americans have been singing about poker. It is very much a game of the American West. It has the frontier spirit in it, and it is somehow about life and death and everything in between.

A poem comes to a poet, and he sends it orphaned out into the world, to take its chances. It never knows who or what it might inspire or how it might become part of the world it has stepped into. Stephen Vincent Benet sent his poem, “American Names,” out into the world in 1927. Years later the first line inspired a hit song for a new movie. The last line became the title of a best-selling book, then of a song and a movie. All this and more, unexpectedly, from a couple of lines from an orphaned poem.

The Literary Club of Cincinnati was founded on October 29, 1849 and is—as far as I know—the oldest continuously operating Literary Club in America. Members come from all professions and persuasions; what brings them together is their abiding regard for the written word. Attending one of their Monday evening gatherings reminds one how essential private clubs and “associations” have always been to American democracy.