Op. Ed. – Born on the Fourth of July
Story by Cotton Walker | Jun 27, 2018
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer
I was born on the Fourth of July.
Early on, I realized I was blessed to share a birthday with America. One of my fondest memories took place in the summer of 1976. It was my 10th birthday, and we traveled with my family to Washington, D.C., where we joined more than a million people on the National Mall for celebration and fireworks. Bicentennial Madness had taken hold of America, and “The Spirit of ’76” was everywhere. Afterward, Newsweek included my family in a bicentennial report entitled, “The Best Birthday.”
Fast forward to 2018. As we celebrate our nation on another July 4, there are daily reports of great divisions among us. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, spoke to the fundamental commonalities uniting all Americans despite partisan differences centuries ago. Delivering his inaugural address on March 4, 1801, he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
The American spirit as we know it was born in those words of Thomas Jefferson. Now, more than 240 years later, as Americans, we hold onto the ideals of unalienable rights, individual liberty, and self-determination. We recognize the importance of the words written by Jefferson and others at the inception of the nation and our representative, constitutional democracy. There was clearly genius in the creation of this form of government, with three equal branches, each designed as a check to the other.
All Americans recognize these words as a part of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our city’s namesake penned the words in the weeks leading up to July 4, 1776; Jefferson inspired generations with these words. He drafted one of the most beautiful and powerful testaments to liberty and equality in world history. That Declaration of Independence has been called a mission statement for a revolution — and for a new nation.
Jefferson was a lawyer, congressman, governor of Virginia, and, ultimately, president. He died in Virginia on July 4, 1826 — the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence — only a few hours before President John Adams also passed away in Massachusetts. Interestingly, in the moments before he passed, John Adams spoke his last words, eternally true if not in the literal sense in which he meant them: “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
Thomas Jefferson survives today in the American spirit shown in our city, the City of Jefferson. Jefferson City was incorporated in 1825, and the general assembly moved here in 1826, the same year our city’s namesake passed away.
Like Jefferson, I, too, chose to be a lawyer and chose a life of public service. Unlike Jefferson, who served in the legislative and executive branches, I chose to serve our country in the judicial branch. Since first becoming a judge in 1994, I’ve been committed to the independence of our courts. Daily, I strive to embody the American spirit beyond service on the bench by staying intentionally connected to my community, working for justice, and collaborating with our citizens to help ensure safe and healthy communities for those in Cole County.
Jefferson City families also reflect that same American spirit.
Every day, nearly 200 years after Jefferson’s death, we work hard, help our neighbors, and give back to our community. Every year, we carry on traditions of gathering as a family, enjoying the outdoors, watching fireworks by our beautiful state capitol (and by shooting our own fireworks!), and celebrating the freedom we share together as a country. Just as the cover of that 1976 Newsweek states, this is “Our America.” It truly is “The Best Birthday.”
Happy Fourth of July, Jefferson City.
After graduating from Jefferson City High School, Walker studied at Indiana University and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1988 with a double major in history and political science. Judge Walker received his JD from MU in 1991. Walker has served on multiple committees with the Office of State Courts Administrator and currently serves as Past President of the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judges’ Association. He volunteers his time with many local organizations, is active in his church, and coaches youth basketball. He is married to Debra Massengale Walker, and they have two children: Jacquelyn, 19, and Quinn, 15. The entire Walker family is proud to call Jefferson City their hometown.