With another Independence Day upon us, it seems that, unlike so many other holidays, we Americans take seriously what July 4th represents. Christmas is no longer about Christ, and neither is Easter. Memorial Day and Labor Day are just three-day weekends. But on the Fourth of July, we really do tend to stop and consider the blessings of liberty, and the unfathomable sacrifices made by the extraordinary group of individuals who comprised what we call the founding fathers.
While some say one member of America’s founding generation or another was indispensable to our revolt for independence – like George Washington the sword, Thomas Jefferson the pen, or Patrick Henry the voice – It took all the great men working together and risking their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for a brazen uprising against the world’s greatest empire to succeed.
What they built was a nation of ordered liberty, an experiment in self-government. And lest we forget, that was a truly a radical concept in the late 18th century.
But most Americans don’t realize that the founders did not have an unwavering belief in the longevity of our constitutional republic. Thomas Jefferson wrote that it would be hard-pressed to last more than one generation. And when asked by a citizen after the signing of the Constitution what form of government the founders had instituted, Ben Franklin replied, “a republic…if you can keep it.”
Why did these great men see our constitutional republic as so fragile? Well, it was in part because it had never been tried before. But they also understood all too well that self-government based on liberty will disintegrate and ultimately turn to tyranny when liberty turns to license.
How does that happen? When a society decides that freedom means nothing more than the right to do or demand anything we want at any time. When freedom is based strictly on an ever-expanding body of rights untethered from responsibility. When people vote into office those who will make everyone pay for an ever-expanding universe of entitlements. This creates exactly the type of large, powerful, distant, and unaccountable government against which we fought a revolution.
There is also a common misperception among the American people – especially as they have been subjected to the steady and relentless deconstruction of American history by the iron triangle of government, academia and the media – and it has to do with the American Revolution itself.
It is remarkable how many Americans believe – or just assume – that the vast majority of those late 18th century colonists favored rebellion. That the revolution was therefore inevitable, unavoidable even.
Not true. Loyalists to the crown abounded. Families were bitterly divided. Consensus seemed impossible.
But ah, the energy, the passion, the commitment. That was all in the camp of the Patriots. The Loyalists simply wanted to sustain the system, however deep its flaws. But it was the strength, determination, and unwavering commitment of the Patriots that won the day.
The ensuing process of launching – and winning – a revolution was an act of audacity unparalleled in human history.
A bunch of rag-taggers with little more than a small jingle in their pockets and the clothes on their back – farmers, laborers, ordinary people – impassioned by rebellion, rallied to a cause by the strength and leadership of rabble-rousing leaders like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, speaking truth to power. And molded into a force that achieved the impossible.
A pitchfork revolution indeed.
Is this starting to sound familiar to those who have lived through our most recent national election?
The colonists cared far less whether those who would become their leaders in the event of success were untested or even deeply flawed than they did about the willingness of those leaders to cast aside their comfort and wealth accumulated under British rule and put it all on the line for the sake of what came to be America.
Still sounding familiar?
When the colonists revolted, they knew not what would happen in the aftermath. But they damn sure knew what they needed to do – organize, revolt, tear down the system. And consider the consequences later.
When the institutions that form the foundation of a colony – or a nation – collapse and lose the trust of their subjects, all it takes is a match to light the growing tinderbox and set the people to revolt. Ask the people of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who ripped apart a legacy of communist tyranny…or the forgotten citizens behind the blue wall in the nation’s heartland.
Not all revolutions are just. And not all revolutions succeed, for so much of humanity is ultimately unwilling to embrace, or even accept, hard truths and genuine change. And understandably so, for real change is at once so alive with possibility, and yet so daunting.
As in 1776, Americans in 2016 were faced with the choice of being loyalists to the global and domestic order of the last several decades or patriots seeking a new spark of independence. They decided to launch a second American Revolution.
The question now is whether that spirit of independence can remain alive in a country so bitterly balkanized. Even conversation has become impossible between the forces of independence and those seeking to mind meld the American people into a continued embrace of the new world order, which is no longer so new.
To the matter of whether the nation can survive the inevitable challenge of this constitutional republic, Ben Franklin is reported to have said “When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
John Adams said, “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” What he meant was, absent a sense of individual responsibility, the foundation of freedom crumbles.
But the demand for other people’s money, and for the rejection of traditional standards of morality, has come to define both the political establishment and “The Resistance.” These dual forces embody the critical mass of Americans who believe they are entitled to everything from a job to a generous wage to guaranteed health care, and to the ultimate entitlement: getting other people to pay for all of it.
We can see the results of the ever-expanding welfare state, of social democracies, right before our eyes in Europe, where chronic low-growth and high-unemployment economies abound, and individual freedom has become an afterthought. Half-hearted attempts to reduce government control have failed, and sparked a rising tide of independence movements starting with Brexit and now spreading throughout the continent.
Will America learn from its own history – and the current state of affairs among our cultural ancestors – and ultimately choose liberty? Or will we return to simply voting ourselves money?
The answer to this question will ultimately determine whether we shall continue to be a free people. History has taught us that those who seek to control our lives, and make us dependent, will not cease in their attempts to impose their values upon the entire nation. It is up to those of us who value liberty to do what Americans from the rebels of 1776 to the voters of 2016 have so bravely done – just say no.