Happy Independence Day!
I do realize I am a couple of days late saying that when this edition comes out, but as I reflect on another Fourth of July, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this native land of mine. How much do we— do I—take for granted on a daily basis?
I stumbled across a video of a guy on a California beach approaching beachgoers and asking them a couple of questions: Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July? and What significance does 1776 have?
I’ve witnessed a lot of ignorance in “man on the street” interviews over the years. And since I have no faith in humans, I was hardly astounded when nobody in the video could answer those simple questions. If you’re an American, you should have those answers on the tip of your tongue or have at least a plausible answer—I mean that’s first grade stuff, right?—but I guess I don’t know what’s taught in schools anymore. Frankly, it was embarrassing. I can’t understand how we’re so behind the rest of the world in education! (Note: Sarcasm doesn’t always translate to print.)
When the Founding Fathers declared our independence from British rule on July 4, 1776, one of the main influences for the American Revolution against what they viewed as a corrupt and tyrannical government, was their embrace of the principles of “republicanism” (not to be confused with the Republican Party.) Individual liberty and unalienable rights are the main tenets of republicanism, which places the great value on individual civic virtue, despises corruption, and rejects inherited political power. It was the idea behind the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Gettysburg Address.
Of republicanism, historian Bernard Bailyn said, “The preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on wielders of power and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people….” And, “This need to protect virtue was a philosophical underpinning of the American Revolution.” In historian Gordon Wood’s The Idea of America, he says, “American republicanism was centered on limiting corruption and greed. Virtue was of the utmost importance for citizens and representatives.”
Virtue almost seems like a quaint word these days. Sure, there’s plenty of virtue signaling, but what good does that do? Virtue signaling is as substantial as a breath in a hurricane. Actual virtue builds foundations for better lives, both individually and collectively.
Without virtue as a check, corruption and greed are inevitable. Without term limits, well, you get the gist. I’d say we’ve skewed quite a bit towards inherited political power. Individual liberty has been constantly abridged by the gluttony of a bloated federal government. And state government. And local government. Everybody wants a piece of the pie. The vigilance and moral stamina of the people has obviously been lacking. It seems much of the spirit, the intent that drove the revolt against imperial tyranny has been lost; nobody seems to want to exert much virtue. Rather, more and more have come to rely on the almighty government. The expression “There’s no such thing as free lunch” comes to mind. But I digress.
The point is we take a lot for granted— the ability to speak freely as I am here is one of them—when we ought to be mindful and thankful. Though individual liberty has eroded over time, we still enjoy so much freedom here. And we ought to remain vigilant to protect the ideals of republicanism, which John Adams described as: “a government, in which all men, rich and poor, magistrates and subjects, officers and people, masters and servants, the first citizen and the last, are equally subject to the laws.” The Declaration of Independence opens: “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.”
What an incredible statement, a revolutionary idea, that all men are the same. It still resonates—to me at least—particularly on Independence Day.
Some may be born with more than others, but that does not give them more value; each of us is intrinsically valuable in the eyes of God, who is not a “respecter of persons” (or in other words, status). The Founders recognized that.
It’s our souls that matter, not what we look like or what possessions we have or where we rank on society’s ladder. All of that is inconsequential—mere vanity—in the big picture.
The problem is we’ve forgotten one big thing when we take our liberty for granted; we’ve forgotten the One who endowed us our rights. And in a society of instant gratification and self-worship, we’ve forgotten to be thankful. We’ve forgotten virtue. That’s dangerous.
Adams wrote in 1776, “Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics. There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honor, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty.”
No one is immune to this wanton forgetfulness. Certainly not me, nor anyone else. In our pursuit of happiness through pleasure and material things, we’ve left God out of the picture. We’re often ungrateful with what we have; we always want more. It’s human nature.
Here’s the rub: It’s thankful people who are happy, not the other way around. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Be thankful with what you have. That attitude pays off. Happiness is fleeting at best otherwise and often but an illusion.
I’ll end with this. Jesus exhorted his followers to “love you neighbor.” He didn’t add on any qualifiers like “…if they voted the same as you” or “if they have the same skin color as you” or “if they believe exactly as you believe” or “if they’re nice to you.” I know that’s a difficult, even weird concept these days. But try it. You just might like it.
He also said, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.” And that’s the best freedom there is.
Hey, America turned 242 years old Wednesday! We owe a debt of gratitude to all those throughout her years who have fought to preserve her light of liberty. I’d say she’s still worth celebrating and deserves our vigilance and our virtue.
Until next time…
Brian Miller is a longtime local writer who resides in Eveleth, MN. He welcomes glowing accolades and scathing reviews at email@example.com.