In these trying times, with high unemployment, home values falling and uncertainty in the air, we Americans should all take a moment this Independence Day to recognize that our troubles are petty compared to the vast sweep of humans in history. From the Israelites’ trek out of the bonds of Egypt, to the dreary subsistence lives of most people throughout most of recorded time, we are blessed in our abundance. But that does not stop many of our good citizens from feeling the economic sting, and announcing their pain loudly.
This sting is nothing, dear friends. Because we know one thing – that in a free nation with its people empowered one by one, we will set our creative minds to working overtime, and once more start our trip up a path to rebirth and renewal. Because under the umbrella of liberty, inventive and innovative people are free to act on their dreams.
Freedom gives “We, the people” the chance, and the right, to throw off the oppressive hand on our shoulder and to banish its spies among us.
The courageous patriots who signed our founding documents knew well that the nation that they wished to create would never be perfect or equal in material ways, for that is impossible. They also knew that there was no theoretical precedent for the government that they wished to establish. And they too recognized that it would engender a nebulous, untried force called freedom under which all men truly are “created equal”. And that is the most vital equality of all.
What is freedom but the route to human happiness. But be not fooled. Happiness is not the goal of freedom. Freedom itself is. And only liberty can produce happiness of the human heart.
The goal of freedom is to create peace for all men and women, insuring “domestic tranquility” that is not just public, but personal and private too, to elevate their oft-battered souls above the travails of the ages, to offer them hope that they too may someday have economic security, the opportunity to rise above their born station, to be a councilor, a Congressman or even President of the United States without royal blood or a genealogical pedigree. Freedom is the only single way for man to realize his dreams of honor and equity and ultimately love and respect given to, and received from, his fellow man.
Had the signers on July 4, 1776 faced only the petty distractions that we confront today, they would have laughed and thrown a party. Because in those colonial times, life was harsh, brutal and short. Many of our Founders, and many people in general, were in continuous states of debt because of a perpetually uncertain economy, when one single storm could ruin an entire season’s food supply or sink a shipful of goods; when the average lifespan was a mere 35 years; when women routinely died in childbirth; when childhood itself was a hit-or-miss proposition amply evidenced by a survey of colonial graveyard epitaphs; when food often was scarce and frequently tainted; when a simple wound could lead to sickness and death; when the toils of the day were cruel and exhausting and led the people, at times, to hope for the blessing of Heaven over their miserable stay on earth.
No, our problems today are few in comparison. Today we have increasing lifespans, falling infant mortality, conquered diseases, superior food, better shelter, clean water… and more freedom than the Founders did.
Yet despite their hard lives, those Founders and patriots knew that only liberty would truly grant them their God-given rights, and a chance at peace and prosperity as well. Just look at the language they used to describe their powerlessness in the face of a tyrannical British crown:
‘He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.’
‘He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
‘He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
‘In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.’
Gasoline at $4 a gallon. Hah! These brave souls would snicker at us from the grave for our obsession over these paltry deprivations. In proclaiming themselves liberated, they were offering, and expecting, to die for freedom knowing full well that the armies they faced were superior by factors of ten and hundred, that Britain was the most powerful nation on earth
Yet were they deterred?
Because they knew that 50 or 100 or 235 years hence that, with their success, that Americans would live in a safer, better, kinder and freer world. But only if they took on the impossible task implied in the Declaration. And resting assured that Divine Providence was with them, they recognized their mission as nothing less than God-ly and momentous.
Indeed the men who affixed their signatures to that document were not concerned over trivial matters of commerce. They were unconcerned even with their own mortality, for they knew that on that fateful April day of 1775 that they already had embarked on an effort that would be merciless – frigid in winter, sweltering in summer, painful, violent and sad, and unlike us today with our comparatively inconsequential woes, they understood that they were at a crossroads in time when they alone could set a marker down and change the dismal tide of history.
They signed the Declaration so that we someday would have the choice to make of our lives what we wished, not that which would be ordained by some faraway despot. Because prosperity and peace for the many is occasioned only by liberty for all.
‘When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…’
What an audacious introduction, the first time in history that a people sought to confront and free themselves from a tyranny in order to establish a true state of freedom and equality.
‘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.’
All men are created equal?! What a revolutionary concept! 235 years ago that is. Today we accept it as a fact of life. But it wasn’t always so. William Paca, Button Gwinnett, and Francis Hopkinson risked their lives to make it so. We must remember that.
‘That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.’
Look at the language of change, hope and optimism. While those today who would deny us freedom use the language of fear and pessimism to undermine us. Which is why we mustn’t allow doubt and distrust to rule.
‘The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.’
Timidity and political correctness were not the ways of these courageous souls. They named names!
And what do we owe these signers whose actions could assuredly mark them for death?
We owe them everything. We owe them our gratitude, our happiness, our security and our prosperity in knowing that a rainy day in one nation under God offers us infinitely more opportunity than a millennia of sunshine under a tyrant king.
Because freedom is not, and was not free. Tens of thousands died in that war of liberty, six-and-a-half long years of struggle against an intimidating and superior force. But those patriots of 1776 were not consumed with their own safety and security. They were men of conviction who were concerned about the state of man on earth.
And today, as we walk down supermarket aisles jammed with low-cost food products from all over the world, as we live in spacious houses air conditioned and heated for our comfort, and drive our cars or fly on jetliners for leisurely vacations in lands far and away, we have more material comfort than they ever could have dreamed as they sweat and froze and suffered and died in the trenches of liberty.
Imagine their shock at discovering that someday their fledgling nation would become the freest and richest in the world, setting an example for all. And that to top it off that this same nation would someday rush to the defense of embattled Britain itself?
Ultimately, however, after liberating themselves from tyranny imposed from abroad, those Founders and patriots codified in our Constitution that real freedom means freedom from our very own government here at home. This is the message of 1787, that we will build a nation on a unique concept called ‘a republic’ in which we cast votes in free elections, hold our officials to account and refuse to allow our leaders to limit our speech, take our wealth, restrict our private property rights, or dictate the terms of our commerce. It is not a foreign power that the Constitution girds against; it is the domestic muscle imbedded in a tyrannical government like that from which the revolutionaries separated us.
Freedom means we live free from fear of our own army or police, that no solider may be quartered in our homes without our consent, that we may worship as we wish, and that we may, as individuals, own firearms for self-defense. For the Founders knew that the first act of an oppressor is to disarm the people.
But freedom goes deeper. Not only does liberty encompass those privileges listed in the Bill of Rights – which, by the way, was an afterthought to the Constitution. We must know always that liberty at its heart comes from a God who is patient, generous, loving and good because it is not in man’s nature to grant liberty to his fellow man, but only in God’s.
And freedom means, at its core, the right to self defense, to be safe in our persons and in our homes. And this you may think is codified somewhere in our Constitution, but it is decidedly not.
“The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is only the tip of it. The Natural Law that rules us offers political self defense through a limited tri-partite government against a criminal, an invading army or our own government that wishes to cause us harm — physical, religious and political — an to impinge on our pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, liberty has spread across the globe. And it all started on July 4, 1776. By 1783, with the Revolution complete and mighty Britain defeated and its signature affixed to another document — the Treaty of Paris — America was emerging as the first true democracy on earth. Today we have freedom east, west, north and south. And to whom do we the world’s people owe the deepest gratitude of our hearts? The kings and dukes of Britain? The royals of Spain? The Ottoman sultans?
No, friends, it was the unpedigreed rabble listed at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, and thousands more like them, who sacrificed all for a concept that barely had even been conceived of in all of history, an untried experiment in brotherhood, a laboratory for the elite idea of human equality.
Only God is perfect. And in man’s imperfections, our nation represents the best that man can be. And somehow, by Divine Providence, America survived and spread liberty across the oceans. We are the standard-bearer for all of history to judge.
And history will judge us well. The liberty-maintainers among us today are not a people who seek credit for keeping vigil on the miraculous outcome of this noble experiment. And neither were the liberty-seeking Founders and signers. To humbly and quietly accept the gift of freedom is a trait of those who cherish it. Because they well know that autonomy is its own reward, and no other prize is necessary.
Freedom is an offering from a God from whom we ask no further favor and expect no other indulgence. Freedom is the working of a Heavenly vigor that allows us to make our own way, to succeed or fail not by dint of the wishes of connected kings and zealous governors, but by our own sweat, toil and honorable will. And God’s gift is not given, but offered, and not to the meek, the ignorant or the weak, but to the strong and the vigilant.
And the freedom we know, that we celebrate each Independence Day is more than a parade and fireworks and red, white and blue bunting. It is a sensation, a force, a glow for all Americans to savor, and was given by some of the bravest men in the history, the signers of the document who could only have dreamed in their heart of hearts that July 4 would henceforth come to be celebrated annually as Independence Day.
They knew that they needed to act. Carpe diem… seize the day! They knew that their circumstance was perhaps a once-in-a-millennium opportunity, a volatile mix of fervor and bliss, excitement, opportunity and challenge. And they took it. They were modest and smart, serious and driven, the kind of men who put duty and honor before self, preparing finally to unlock the fetid vault of history and to release its prisoners into the light. Their intuitions were those of scholars and statesmen who had studied history, art, philosophy and science, and who knew full well that the time was nigh for a revolutionary act that would shake the world to its fiery core.
Will we Americans survive our current woes? Unequivocally yes, because we are a nation founded by men and women of vision and courage. We never will accede to uncertainty, doubt or anger. Defeat is unthinkable. We can and will face our challenges with the same valor that our Founders exhibited. Except that theirs was infinitely more solemn and sober.
Those brave souls who signed that Declaration, men of foresight and vision, some certainly more famous than others, never will be forgotten.
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton