America's founders saved our lunch; will we save generations two centuries hence?

Last week, I deeply immersed myself in American "exceptionalism," the virtue that offends so many, from Russian President Vladimir Putin to our own cynics who regard patriotism as the refuge of scoundrels.

Along with my wife, I visited the Virginia homes of American presidential giants Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), James Madison (Montpelier) and James Monroe (Ash Lawn), after dropping in on Baltimore's Fort McHenry, which humbled the great British navy in the War of 1812.

I couldn't help from wondering how these Founding Fathers and the many others who pledged their lives and fortunes — with many surrendering both — for their young nation would regard today's bitter partisan standoffs, on Obamacare, the national debt, sequestration and the culture wars, among other schisms.

As our superb Montpelier guide, Ben Bates, explained, our nation's future was very much on their minds.

During the darkest days of our War of Independence, George Washington said, "The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, freeman or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own. ... The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army ..." (Emphasis added.) We're those millions.

Read more in the Chicago Tribune

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison

James Madison

 

 

The U.S. Constitution

The U.S. Constitution

 

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

 

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

 

The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

 

 

 

 

James Monroe

James Monroe

James Monroe's Ash Lawn

James Monroe's Ash Lawn

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    Dennis Byrne

    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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