Two hundred thirty-six years ago, on July 4, 1776, the birthday of our nation, the American Colonies declared their Independence from Great Britain. By any estimation that was an extremely bold step, filled with risk, fraught with danger and yet, in the eyes of a very intelligent and accomplished people, worthy of a commitment of lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
What could have inspired such courageous actions if not the hope for a new and free society built upon the self evident truth of the intrinsic and equal worth of each person derived from God’s free gift of life. Yet the abundance that has been a side effect of our hard won freedom may tempt us toward complacency and the loss of vigilance over the invisible principles at the foundation of true freedom. These principles are fundamentally spiritual and are reflected in habits such as integrity, personal responsibility, reliability, charity, mutual honor and respect. These are personal virtues necessary for the enduring success of our free society, a society which can remain only as strong and resilient as the inner strength of each of its members. In the same way that a chain can only be as strong as its weakest link, the life of our Nation depends on the invisible choices of each of its citizens.
Our 4th of July has always been a celebration of this freedom and of the ultimate sacrifices of so many that have made it possible. These sacrifices began with the first revolutionaries responding to the “shot heard round the world.” A great many of our citizens and soldiers have continued to make great sacrifices, both noticed and unnoticed, right up to our present day where the struggle for a free way of life still goes on and often far beyond our shores. Today we celebrate the heroes and the ideals that, despite our faults, still make our country a beacon of hope for the aspirations to freedom of so many people struggling to breathe free from the constrictions of bondage frequently imposed in the name of good.
In these current times and far removed from the poignancy of the colonists’ day to day struggles under an oppressive regime, we may tend to forget about the natural links between hardship and faith, between hope and the courage of love to make real the goals of that hope. While we may be tempted to focus more on the “fireworks” of the Fourth, on the fun of parades or on other “dazzles” of the day, it is also good to reflect for a minute on the context of those earlier more revolutionary times.
After the failure of many efforts on the part of the colonists to reconcile their differences with the government of the British King of the time and with their British brethren, their Declaration of Independence appeared to be the only viable path to relief. It explained a long list of grievances against the King and his government who had been systematically and in multiple ways eroding almost every aspect of dignity, creativity and freedom to which the Colonies would aspire. More importantly, it announced an unfailing commitment to the invisible inner values that recognize and protect the intrinsic worth of every person no matter from what background or in what stage of life. It outlined the ideas for a government that would derive its powers only from the consent of the governed and not from an arrogant assumption that only government is possessed of all wisdom. This new government would understand its role not as a giver of rights but only as the protector and guarantor of rights already given by the Creator and in that sense intrinsic and inalienable. That these ideas could be molded into an actual governmental and social structure was truly a revolution and beyond the cultural possibilities of those times. In fact the lofty ideals of our beginnings continue to challenge us to never be satisfied with the status quo but to be always vigilant for the subtle ways of limiting freedom that may creep into our thinking.
And while we celebrate with gratitude the reality of these ideals for ourselves, we notice there is no shortage in the world of oppressive regimes eager to usurp the God-given rights of the people. This makes it all the more important for us to live up to the challenge of our founding ideals and for each one of us as citizens to take seriously the power and consequences of our personal choices.
In reflecting on the birth of these ideals into our own United States and on our Fourth of July holiday, Thomas Jefferson wrote down his hopes that it would be “the signal of arousing men to burst the chains of oppression and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.” He describes our form of government as one which “restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or are opening, to the rights of man. ... For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
William Green is a Coeur d’Alene resident.