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. 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. (The Declaration of Independence)
I usually write my own columns, but today, on the eve of the 237th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration, it may be time to let those who crafted it, fought for it and with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to it, speak instead.
Every year when this week rolls around, I wish my fellow Americans a happy Independence Day and await the typical response: a confused look at first, followed inevitably by a cheery “Happy Fourth of July,” in return. To say that, like most holidays celebrated in this country, Independence Day has lost nearly all of its meaning, is an understatement indeed. And this is a sad state of affairs, especially when you consider the joy-filled prediction of the Atlas of Independence himself, John Adams, who so wondrously dreamed of the Declaration’s role in the fulfillment of the Glorious Cause:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.
You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not. (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1776)
Most Americans of a certain age believe they know the reasons behind the War for Independence; mainly the economic complaints of taxation without representation. But what did the Founders think? Listen to John Adams and note that he traces the roots of the revolt to the change in attitude toward the governance of the British Crown in terms of religion; and to George Washington, who spells it out more clearly:
What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy, according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good; but when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the continental congress and all the thirteen State congresses. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution. (John Adams to H. Niles, 1818)
The establishment of Civil and Religious Liberty was the Motive which induced me to the Field — the object is attained — and it now remains to be my earnest wish & prayer, that the Citizens of the United States could make a wise and virtuous use of the blessings placed before them. (George Washington to the Reformed German Congregation of New York City)
Indeed, the venerable father of our country seemed at all times to be addressing the issues we face today; such is the meaning of timeless truth:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. (An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution)
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens…Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. (Farewell Address)
[I]f the laws are to be so trampled upon with impunity, and a minority…is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government…for some other man or society may dislike another law and oppose it with equal propriety until all laws are prostrate, and everyone will carve for himself. (On the Whiskey Rebellion)
Also forward-looking in his pronouncements was Alexander Hamilton, who would have been appalled by President Obama and might have said of him in Federalist No. 1, “Of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” Think of the Thought Police, of blissfully uninformed voters and the elevation of homosexual behavior to a constitutional right while considering:
Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech. (Benjamin Franklin, The New England Courant, July 9, 1722)
Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. (Thomas Paine, Common Sense)
[D]emocracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few. (John Adams, An Essay on Man’s Lust for Power)
One of the singular and most evident truths cited by the Founders was their nearly universal belief that the moral fiber of the people was essential to their dream of republican self-government:
No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders. (Samuel Adams to James Warren, 1775)
Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them. (James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention)
Will Americans finally reach the level of frustration when the cruel weight of governmental tyranny which now effects all spheres of our lives so crushes us that we will call for action and demand our birthright? If we do, only then will we truly comprehend the reasons for the revolution that led to Independence Day. If that day comes, we might look once again for encouragement to the brave men who won our freedom. One such man was Joseph Warren; physician, soldier and patriot who, on June 17, 1775, although commissioned a Major General in the Continental Army, fought and died as a private soldier in the Battle of Bunker Hill at the age of 34. Three months earlier, he addressed his fellow citizens at the annual Boston Massacre observance:
Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.