“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Looking back through the lens of history over the 232 years since those 56 determined men chose to formally take a bold stand for the cause of liberty it is easy to loose sight of the fact that the outcome was far from determined. By defying the British crown they made themselves enemies of one of the most formidable military forces of the day.
In a land where nearly all the materials of war were of necessity imported via ship they were picking a fight with the world’s preeminent naval power controlled by a nation whose empire would continue to expand for another 160 years, right up to World War II.
To stand against this force they had an army which had been authorized less than three weeks before, effectively existing in name only, and a handful of smaller war ships, which were still largely under construction.
They knew the implications of the resolution they were adopting that sunny but cool July day in Philadelphia. A fleet of British ships transporting a sizable army with the express purpose of crushing the growing rebellion had landed in Boston just two days before. Years later one of the Declaration signers, Benjamin Rush recalled the seriousness of that occasion to his good friend, and fellow signer, John Adams.
Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?
What they did have in abundance was an overpowering belief in the rightness of their cause. You see these great minds had long debated the merits and meanings of such lofty terms as loyalty, independence, tyranny, liberty, taxation, and representation.
And they held fast to understanding that they would have, as stated in the last line of the Declaration, “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence“.
It was an idea that was perhaps best stated by that masterful orator Patrick Henry in his famed “give me liberty or give me death” speech in which he said
“Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.”
Morality the Key
History clearly reveals that these fine men were in fact right. Circumstances did maneuver themselves in favor of the rebellion. Friends did rise up to join the fight, eventually. It would take 8 long uncertain years of hard fought war to get there. But eventually these brave men were vindicated.
In order to establish a government that would uphold liberty over tyranny and despotism the founding fathers placed their trust in the people, though they knew that trust could be a tenuous thing. Even 200+ years ago these great minds knew that the citizens of our nation could only be trusted to guard liberty and freedom as long as they remained a moral society.
When expressing his somewhat reluctant approval of the US Constitution, the great thinker Benjamin Franklin said that the proposed government
can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
Invariably the founders tied the morality needed with religion, which in their understanding was inexorably tied to the teachings of Jesus Christ found in that ubiquitous book found in nearly all American households, the Bible. Some examples are
Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good governance and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
These statements give a person pause on this anniversary of the momentous chain of events that was formally set in motion that solemn July day. As Abraham Lincoln famously said we are still, “testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
The responsibility for safeguarding that very liberty these men were willing to fight to secure rests on each of us. Perhaps no one spelled this principle out as eloquently as that master of words Noah Webster.
Whether it is today or some other, the next time you see fireworks reflect on these words of his.
“When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers, just men who will rule in the fear of God. The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty.
If the citizens neglect their duty, and place unprincipled men in office,
- the government will soon be corrupted;
- laws will be made, not for the public good, so much as for selfish and local purposes;
- corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws;
- the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men;
- and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.
If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws. Intriguing men can never be safely trusted.”
Please have a wonderful holiday weekend.