Today marks the 235th anniversary of America’s inception. On this date in 1776, the United States effectively announced her independence from the dominion of Great Britain’s George III and embarked upon a long, trying road fraught with war, a precarious peace, and the social and political tumults inherent to the formation of a new nation. At the outset of these events, Virginian Thomas Jefferson penned an eloquent declaration that simultaneously established the illegitimacy of George III’s government and documented the sole purpose* that serves as the foundation for just, legitimate, and proper governance of any citizenry.
*”That to secure these [unalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
But the American Revolution is, in my estimation, a bit of a misnomer. American colonists, in their efforts to preserve the way of life, economic prosperity, and most important – individual rights – that they had largely grown accustomed to over the previous century, fought a war for independence rather than revolution, per se. The Founders did not seek or desire to change Great Britain’s form of monarchical government or depose George III as Oliver Cromwell did Charles I in the 17th century. In point of fact, they fought the British for the right not to change what they had largely already socially incorporated on the American continent – the right to local self-governance, freedom of religious discretion, right to self-defense, right to fair and due process, right to security of property, and many other God-given rights and freedoms.
To that point, it is a matter of improvable debate as to whether or not God intervened on behalf of the American patriots’ cause but what is beyond dispute is that the Founders believed that He had. They felt their cause worthy, that of divine providence, and felt that God Himself ordained individual freedom for those who are willing to sacrifice and struggle to achieve (or sustain) it. This is a sentiment that is profound in our nation’s founding and one that I believe went a long way toward facilitating its ultimate outcome. That God blessed man with unalienable rights is largely accepted but I contend that it is up to us, with His help if He deems us so worthy, to secure and maintain these rights for ourselves. This is a key point that should be emphasized, I think.
Once victory on the battlefield was achieved, much disagreement inevitably surfaced as to the nature and powers of the new American government. Men who had previously been compatriots united in common purpose, such as James Madison and Patrick Henry, soon became political rivals in the framing debates that followed. But in the end, all stakeholders – that is, the people of the newly established States and the fledgling legislative government established by the Articles of Confederation – all came to unanimous concurrence on a representative federal republic as the accepted form of government with a relatively concise and overwhelmingly restrictive constitution serving as its founding and authoritative charter. This portion of the story was revolutionary, to be sure.
The Founding Fathers recognized that true democracy was neither practical in a continental nation nor did it contain sufficient safeguards for individual rights. Democracy without the appropriate protections is, they rightly reasoned, just another means for one social body to persecute or take advantage of another. Thus the world’s first true federal republic was born and it was and is sound in both theory and principle.
But as time has drawn on the very prosperity that has resulted from this monumental experiment in freedom has ironically proven to be the poison pill to its execution, and the collection of citizens is predominantly to blame. Because of the adoption of the 17th Amendment and an unwillingness to adhere to the 10th Amendment the concept of federalism has virtually disappeared, persisting largely in the context of taxes and law enforcement alone. The concept of public representation has slowly devolved into pseudo-aristocracy due to the combined willing ignorance of the electorate and pandering for votes by the ruling class. The body that is the American public, over time, has increasingly failed to empower themselves with knowledge and principle, to fully protect their own natural rights, and to maintain the proper limits on the federal government which is the core tenet of federalism.
All is not doom and gloom, however; nor would I wish to disingenuously paint it as such. But the ugly truth remains: that Americans have a nasty habit of thinking ourselves above the historical reality of self-destruction, beyond the reaches of degradation, and utterly immune to tyranny. Our inherited prosperity has collectively bred our complacency and arrogance has followed suit. Hubris is often the root of a once prosperous people’s fall from grace. Humility demands nothing less than gratitude for the fortune of possessing the security our natural rights generally enjoy, a security that many of the world’s people would quite literally kill for. Gratitude must subsequently be displayed with the diligence necessary to strengthen, not weaken, the protection of those natural rights that served as the founding rationale for the American republic.
On this July 4th, celebrate not just a day off from work or a good time with family and friends but remember the good fortune that has brought us – through no right of effort on most of our own parts it must be remembered – to such a state of personal freedom. I ask that each of us remember why we celebrate independence – itself a celebration of the security of our ordained unalienable rights – and ask ourselves truly if we are doing everything we legally, ethically, and principally can to secure them from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Let today be the springboard for a reinvigorated effort to support the sworn mission of our fighting men and women by engaging our government with informed involvement, challenging it to demonstrate constitutional principle, and demanding it to function within its proper moral and ethical boundaries.
Happy Birthday America.