I can hear the fireworks off in the distance tonight as July 4th winds down and I can pause a few minutes to reflect on the history of this great nation on this Independence Day. For some, this day is truly a celebration of the birth of this nation and a remembrance of our Founding Fathers’ vision of a nation free from tyranny and the recognition that Liberty and Freedom are rights whose source is Divine Providence and can never be taken away by man or government. For the majority of Americans this is just another day off from their jobs. There are BBQ’s and picnics, parades and carnivals, sparklers and fireworks. Yet the majority fail to reflect on the Declaration of Independence as the greatest document ever in the history of mankind apart from the Bible followed by the ratification of the US Constitution which established the role of government and the rule of law in this Democratic Republic.
As Thomas Jefferson authored…
“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 founders penned their vision of a government that derives it’s powers from the governed. It is also the Right of the People to abolish or alter it IF the government becomes destructive to these rights endowed by our Creator. The Declaration reminds us of the limited role that government should have. The Constitution defines that role. The government does not guarantee HAPPINESS (nor can they ever) but rather ensure our God-given right to PURSUE HAPPINESS. So what is America? Is the America we live in today the same that the Founders signed their death warrants for? What about all those patriots who gave their lives from the Revolutionary War to present day defending our liberty and our way of life? Is this the same America? Is America that “shining light on the hill” to a dark world anymore? Is America still exceptional?
Signing of the Declaration of Independence.
John Adams’ famous letter of July 3, 1776, in which he wrote to his wife Abigail what his thoughts were about celebrating the Fourth of July is found on various web sites but is usually incorrectly quoted. Following is the exact text from his letter with his original spellings:
“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. 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 and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. 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 ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
There was no illusion to those present in Philadelphia that this journey would not be easy.
Upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence Ben Franklin responded to a comment by John Hancock that they will all hang for this. He was the eldest signer of the Declaration of Independence, and when he finished signing the document, he joked, “Gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we shall most assuredly all hang separately.”
The members of the Continental Congress committed to each other and their country:
“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.”
Were these just words? Did they really “walk the walk” as we say today?
We tend to forget that to sign the Declaration of Independence was to commit an act of treason — and the punishment for treason was death. To publicly accuse George III of “repeated injuries and usurpation’s,” to announce that Americans were therefore “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,” was a move fraught with danger — so much so that the names of the signers were kept secret for six months.
Nine of the 56 died during the Revolution, and never tasted American independence.
Five were captured by the British.
Eighteen had their homes — great estates, some of them – looted or burnt by the enemy.
Some lost everything they owned.
Two were wounded in battle.
Two others were the fathers of sons killed or captured during the war.
“…our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
We all recognize John Hancock’s signature, but who ever notices the names beneath his? William Ellery, Thomas Nelson, Richard Stockton, Button Gwinnett, Francis Lewis – to most of us, these are names without meaning. But each represents a real human being, some of whom paid dearly “for the support of this Declaration” and American independence.
Lewis Morris of New York, for example, must have known when he signed the Declaration that he was signing away his fortune. Within weeks, the British ravaged his estate, destroyed his vast woodlands, butchered his cattle, and sent his family fleeing for their lives. Another New Yorker,William Floyd, was also forced to flee when the British plundered his property. He and his family lived as refugees for seven years without income. The strain told on his wife; she died two years before the war ended. Carter Braxton of Virginia, an aristocratic planter who had invested heavily in shipping, saw most of his vessels captured by the British navy. His estates were largely ruined, and by the end of his life he was a pauper. The home of William Ellery, a Rhode Island delegate, was burned to the ground during the occupation of Newport. Thomas Heyward Jr., Edward Rutledge, and Arthur Middleton, three members of the South Carolina delegation, all suffered the destruction or vandalizing of their homes at the hands of enemy troops. All three were captured when Charleston fell in 1780, and spent a year in a British prison. Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia raised $2 million for the patriots’ cause on his own personal credit. The government never reimbursed him, and repaying the loans wiped out his entire estate. During the battle of Yorktown, his house, which had been seized by the British, was occupied by General Cornwallis. Nelson quietly urged the gunners to fire on his own home. They did so, destroying it. He was never again a man of wealth. He died bankrupt and was buried in an unmarked grave. Richard Stockton, a judge on New Jersey’s supreme court, was betrayed by loyalist neighbors. He was dragged from his bed and thrown in prison, where he was brutally beaten and starved. His lands were devastated, his horses stolen, his library burnt. He was freed in 1777, but his health had so deteriorated that he died within five years. His family lived on charity for the rest of their lives. In the British assault on New York, Francis Lewis’s home and property were pillaged. His wife was captured and imprisoned; so harshly was she treated that she died soon after her release. Lewis spent the remainder of his days in relative poverty. And then there was John Hart. The speaker of the New Jersey Assembly, he was forced to flee in the winter of 1776, at the age of 65, from his dying wife’s bedside. While he hid in forests and caves, his home was demolished, his fields and mill laid waste, and his 13 children put to flight. When it was finally safe for him to return, he found his wife dead, his children missing, and his property decimated. He never saw any of his family again and died, a shattered man, in 1779.
We owe these patriots a debt of gratitude! Do our children know about these people? Do our Public Schools teach these truths regarding the birth of our nation? I am starting to doubt whether many in Congress or even the White House appreciate and honor these heroes or even care. To some, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution is “just a paper”. What is America?
I will not forget a speech by Ronald Reagan that warned us about the fragility of our Liberty:
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” ~ Ronald Reagan, from his first inaugural speech as governor of California, January 5, 1967
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are knitted together and that many of the members of the Continental Congress were influential in the writing of our ageless Constitution and Bill of Rights. The recognition that our rights are endowed by our Creator extends into the first Amendment of our Constitution where there is protection of the free exercise of religion. It does NOT say anything about freedom FROM religion or the exercise of it. Our First Amendment begins by limiting the scope of governmental authority over religious matters: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
To deny America’s Judea-Christian heritage is to walk away to what has blessed our nation for so many years. Many progressives and those on the left profess to say the US Constitution and the importance of religious liberty does not apply today. “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure,” Thomas Jefferson once asked, “when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?” Today, unfortunately, rather than seeing religious liberty as a human right, many, especially among our intellectual and cultural elites, think religious truth is the enemy of human freedom and that pluralism means relativism, a claim increasingly pushed by an ever more central and bureaucratic government—witness the recent regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Not only is the Constitution being threatened with irrelevance but the very role of government as a massive burden and intrusion into the very personal liberty of every American citizen may very well push to the history books what once was that “shining light on a hill”. With government becoming so massive under this administration and Congress we may never be able to recover from a $17T debt and now with the new massive government take-over of the health care system which was passed AGAINST THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE, the IRS and the US Government will consume more power over it’s citizenry than ever in the history of our nation.
So, on this Independence Day in America as people go about their picnics and fireworks we should ask ourselves “What is America?” Are we going to do something about our departure from the vision of our Founding Fathers that formed this great nation, conceived in liberty, as ONE NATION UNDER GOD?
I echo the words of Ronald Reagan in a speech he made called “What the Fourth of July means to me”:
“Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people. We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.”
I am thankful for our nation and the Founding Fathers and many friends I have and mentors who exemplify the virtues of America’s Founders, and promote the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of American citizenship. Let us, the modern day patriots get to the ballot box in November and exercise our right as American citizens to elect God-fearing Constitutionalists to fight for the restoration of our liberty!
Happy Independence Day!
“Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” – Leviticus 25:10