Today we Americans celebrate our Independence Day. I wonder if we "modern-day" Americans really understand what the day is all about. Lest there be any doubt: this day is all about LIBERTY. Although many Americans in 2013 seem perfectly content to give up significant personal liberties in exchange for “free” this or that or an easier lifestyle, those colonists in the 1770s knew that life without liberty is pretty bleak. Sure, they had “security” – Great Britain was taking care of them; but they were not free. Our nation’s founders were willing to struggle, even die, to obtain liberty for themselves (and for us future Americans.)
In the summer of 1774 these founders had already been struggling against the increasing control that Great Britain exerted over the colonies. After they tried, unsuccessfully, by peaceful means to gain some control over their lives, the desire for freedom became a consuming passion for them. So, by the Fall of that year, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia with 56 American delegates, representing every colony except Georgia. On September 17th, that Congress declared its opposition to the repressive Acts of Parliament, saying they are "not to be obeyed,” This was not an easy step to take. They risked their culture and their lives, but they believed that the resulting liberty would be worth the sacrifice. This action of the Continental Congress set the wheels in motion for the founding of our nation and the establishing of our freedom (liberty.)
Six months later, on March 23rd, in Virginia, a meeting of the colony's delegates was held in St. John's church in Richmond. At this congress, Patrick Henry made an impassioned speech to those gathered. The conclusion of his speech has become famous because it shows us how very important Liberty was to these leaders. He said:
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!
I am quite sure that neither Patrick Henry nor any of his hearers would have been willing to give up any freedom whatsoever for a promise of free food, “affordable health care,” more security, or governmental endorsement of their personal foibles. No, these patriots wanted liberty - even if it came with a price tag of death! Patrick Henry’s speech was just one of the impetuses for the Declaration of Independence which was written by these seekers of freedom and adopted by Congress just 2 years and 4 months later.
Our nation’s founders began that declaration of independence with these words:
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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….
They continued the Declaration with an accounting of their grievances against Great Britain and then concluded with these powerful statements:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.These strong believers in liberty then proceeded to write a constitution and began it with this general statement:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.They proceeded then to state clearly how the government of the new union would be organized. They clearly set out what the government could and must do.
The bill of rights (the first 10 amendments) soon followed. These stated what the government would NOT be able to do; and most of these provided for the protection of individual liberties (including the right to protect oneself, to speak one's opinions and conscience, to be secure in one’s own home, to peacefully assemble, and to worship as one sees fit.)
In the 237 years since that new government was established many great leaders have encouraged us to continue fighting to maintain our freedom.
In the early 1800s the French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a two-volume work titled Democracy in America. One pertinent quote from this work that seems applicable to us in 2013 America:
Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word, equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.In the 1940s Franklin Delano Roosevelt reminded the American people that
the only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.Now, 237 years after our nation’s beginning, as we Americans celebrate our independence day, I hope we continue to value our liberty as our forebears intended. I fervently hope that our generation doesn’t sell our hard-won liberties to buy security – or ease of life. Our children and our children’s children shouldn’t have to fight to regain liberties that we lost through complacence or negligence.