“Posterity! you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”
On this the 242nd Anniversary of the recognized signing of the Declaration of Independence, I thought it only right and proper to muse upon the origins of the Framers’ thoughts and the sizable risks they took in articulating those thoughts.
More importantly, however, is our own individual responsibility made manifest from the inheritance we have received… a spectacularly fragile inheritance that was born in blood and protected by continual sacrifice from generation to generation.
What had started as grievance against the Crown, ultimately culminated in a severing of political ties between the largest empire on Earth and its upstart colonies. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, even Adams’ more ardent cousin, Samuel Adams, did not begin this journey seeking independence from England. Quite the opposite, they rightly felt that the English Bill of Rights was not being applied logically to the colonies and the British citizens who resided there.
The English Bill of Rights, drafted in the 1600s, articulated fundamental principles that governed the relationship between Parliament and the people. To those residing in the colonies, many in Parliament felt that compensation for the costs of defending the colonists from the French and Indian Wars were more important then legalistic adherence to the English Bill of Rights.
When British troops were sent to Boston to be quartered amongst the population, essentially as an occupying law enforcement source, (Yes, Cosmo… I am thinking of you!) the people of Massachusetts became irate.
When it was ordered that the subjects of the King be disarmed, that was simply the final straw.
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The Declaration of Independence was by no means a “certain thing.” In the Continental Congress, the delegations from New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina proved resistant to moving forward with a formalized break from Great Britain. After all, they were fighting for the rights of Englishmen… not the formation of a new country. The idea of “country” was not really even in their lexicon. To Virginians, their “country” was Virginia itself. To New Yorkers, their “country” was New York. The colonies were collectively really nothing more that a collection of states. Arguably, as the historian Shelby Foote describes, the transformative process of becoming a single country did not take place until the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865. The language is telling. Up until then, people would describe actions of the United States in the plural…. “the United States are going to do something”. After the Civil War, there was an unconscious shift that took place…”The United States is going to do something.”
So what would have been the end result of General Washington losing at Yorktown? What would have happened had Franklin not endeared himself to the French Court and secured an alliance with France? What would have happened had Washington not employed the skills and talents of Baron Von Steuben and developed a professional Continental Army?
The Framers would have been hanged.
John Adams, in the quote referenced at the beginning of this blog, speaking directly to us is prescient. The Framers knew they were putting themselves at risk. They knew failure was death, and the chances of prevailing were extraordinarily small. They were staking their very lives on the prospect that they could defeat the strongest military power on the planet.
Subsequent to the Revolution, they saw continual problems, from funding the new government to, in some instances, governing the ungovernable.
Still they persevered. With each perseverance they sacrificed personally and professionally. These sacrifices were for a singular beneficiary… us.
Our generation, like every American generation that has come before us and all that will follow, are temporary custodians of the glorious experiment in popular government that our Framers paid so dearly to provide. We must be ever vigilant against the forces of tyranny that will always, by design, seek to nullify the achievements in freedom that our forebearers fought so dearly to preserve.
This Forth of July, this “Birthday of our Country,” please pause for a minute to reflect upon the awesome responsibility that you… you as an individual… have to protect freedom not just for us, but for our posterity. The Declaration… that document, inspired by Divine Providence, sets out the terms: “All men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
From the highest official, to the lowest among us, there is an equality and dignity of the individual. Government is established for the singular purpose of securing those rights.
You, dear reader, are the source of power for the government. It is upon you, as those who came before you, to shoulder the mantel of responsibility as well, to ensure that these rights are protected and nourished for future generations.
God bless you tonight as the festivities ring out across the country…. and God bless these United States of America.