FORT WORTH, Texas, July 4, 2016 — Happy Independence Day! Americans from one end of the country to the other celebrate with parades, barbeques and cook-outs filled with food and fun and last but not least: fireworks. The pyrotechnic displays are to remind us of what our forbears went through to gain independence for themselves and, they hoped, their descendants.
Thomas Jefferson summed up the Declaration in the line that guarantees a person’s right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Unfortunately not all persons within the new country benefited from it.
What modern folks forget or have not learned is that before the birth of our nation, almost from the moment humans walked on the earth, people around the world lived according to the station to which they had been born. Until our forefathers defied their king and founded not only a brand new country, but a brand new type of government, dreams of a better life didn’t exist, for most individuals that were not part of the upper and ruling classes, no matter what continent in which they lived.
With few exceptions folks of European countries lived the same lives that their parents and ancestors did. If you were born a slave, you died a slave. If you were born a serf, you died a serf. If born a noble, you died a noble, although it was somtimes possible to lose one’s social status.
Society in most parts of the world didn’t allow for changes. No exceptions. To complain meant certain death, torture, or at least years in a dank, dark and dirty dungeon.
But then, influenced by the Enlightenment, a group of educated denizens of a far-off British colony opposed their own king and social norms. They believed a man’s life was his own to live and happiness his own to pursue. That right came from God, not the king or government. They would govern themselves.
The signers of our most famous treasonous document knew it wouldn’t grant freedom for everyone right away. Laying the groundwork for it was the best they could do at the time. The stroke of a pen does not necessarily change societal views or the hearts of a people.
They knew it would take years for the hearts of human Americans to change and accept all inhabitants of the United States. Is it fair that it had to happen this way? No. Not by a long shot. But they believed that eventually all Americans would be able to enjoy their lives, liberty and pursue their own happiness.
America is not a perfect country. But what it did consent for was the redress of complaints and accusations of its constituents. In the way it was set up, our government permitted those not enjoying the “Pursuit of Happiness” like most other Americans to influence Washington to change and amend the Constitution by means of protest, civil disobedience, petitions and easy contact with their Senators and Representatives. Before the United States, no other country allowed its citizens to challenge and change the government. To attempt to do so was to sign one’s death warrant.
Until the early nineteenth century, it was even possible to walk up to the White House, knock on the door and address the president himself. Try getting into the throne room of a king or dictator even today.
The Founding Fathers changed all that. So much so that when I was growing up it was possible to stand outside the president’s home and shout, “The president sucks!” without fear of retribution or recrimination.
And this is why we celebrate our Independence.
Modern folks tend to forget that these “old, rich, white guys” (as I’ve heard recently) risked it all for freedom. What does that mean? Those old, rich white guys don’t have a care in the world, right? Think again.
Mike Rowe describes the scenario well in his Independence Day article,*
“Our revolution started because fifty-six wealthy men with everything to lose – put everything on the line – for a country that didn’t even exist yet…… These 56 men – these one-percenters of 1776 – could have easily paid whatever new tax was being demanded by their King. They could have easily lived out their lives in comfortable peace. But they didn’t. They chose liberty over safety. When they signed that troublesome manifesto, they weren’t just declaring their independence – they were signing their own death warrant. And when they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, they weren’t just making a promise to The King of England, or to each other, or to the rest of their fellow colonists – They were making a promise to you and me. And they kept it.”
A good many of our founders did indeed lose all that was sacred and dear to them. But to them, it was still worth it. They set the example for their descendants, including us. Once the battle was won, they and others kept vigil for our freedoms. None gave up one jot, not one tittle lest they risk becoming puppets of a malevolent ruler once more. Many Americans willingly lost their lives and continue to do so in the pursuit of freedom for all. It’s not a perfect society yet, and, likely won’t be until God makes it so.
The ongoing problem, however, is not with the Constitution. The problem is with the imperfect hearts of human beings. Human hearts are hard and loathe change. The human heart will always want to lord over someone else and run with it if not taught differently. The Founding Fathers considered this when Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence and Madison worked to draft the Constitution.
Our American ancestors considered their rights to be sacred, provided by the Creator of the Universe and not for sale. However, the last forty years or so have taught young Americans a different philosophy. Now many millennials see nothing wrong with exchanging rights for comforts.
There are also those now who would do away with the United States and our form of government in favor of one that would exclusively provide education, employment, healthcare, ad infinitum, not fully considering what it will cost them. Of course, those peddling such nonsense are wolves in sheep’s clothing proclaiming that the Federal government is responsible for providing the collective pursuit of happiness—not individuals.
What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t they realize that by incorporating such radical changes, one becomes a slave to the whims of those who provide such things? Haven’t they learned that you can’t get something for nothing and that nothing in life is free? Sooner or later, payment will come due. But by that time it will be too late.
It seems we’ve enjoyed our rights for so long that we forget just how valuable they are. But stop and consider those who risked all so that we may continue to enjoy them even if we forget their true significance. Look inward and imagine yourself as these patriots:
- An army of civilians, farmers, merchants and some military that chose to face the greatest fighting force in the world rather than kowtow to the pomposity of a King
- Brothers from all over the US engaged in hostilities against their brothers, many losing everything in an effort stop the Federal government from overstepping its powers, and the other to give full citizenship to people brought to this land against their will
- The Allies who made their way towards the enemy by sky and sea, willingly facing certain death, put themselves in the line of fire in the effort to take the beaches in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Normandy, and more.
- Helicopter and river patrol units that unflinchingly engaged the enemy while rescuing their own trapped and wounded, facing the enemy in southeast Asia for their country when all the while their own government wouldn’t allow them to do what was necessary to win before finally turning their backs on them.
America’s detractors say it’s time for a change, asserting that late eighteenth century philosophy and our Constitution has nothing in common with the 21st century United States. Really? So when did Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness go out of style?
To keep our rights intact, we must continually work to safeguard them against the hardness of human hearts that would steal or talk us out of holding them close. We must be vigilant but not harsh, unless that is absolutely necessary.
Benjamin Franklin probably didn’t realize he was prophesying when he said,
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
*Click the following link to read the entire article: Off the Wall with Mike Rowe