Letting our freedom ring
We Americans are not unlike people in many countries in annually celebrating the birth of our nation. Where we differ with most is in commemorating not just our independence but also the foundation on which we stand – personal liberty.
Our Declaration of Independence made it clear we intended not just a transfer of power to a new monarch or a different set of aristocrats, but to we, the people. A few years after our separation from Great Britain was complete, we attempted to codify that philosophy in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Many of the nation’s founders worried Americans might not maintain the protections implied in the Declaration of Independence and formalized in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin reportedly was asked what type of government was being formed. “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”
One worry was politicians manipulating the people to gain control at the expense of liberty. The founders feared public officials might view government, not the people acting in our own best interests, as the key institution of our society. And they were concerned congresses, presidents and yes, even the Supreme Court, might eventually take so much control over our economy as a whole and our earnings as individuals and families that taxation without representation again became a complaint.
In many ways we Americans continue to enjoy more freedom, more ability to prosper and more reason to be confident about the future than anyone else on the planet. But the liberties we sought in 1776 have been eroded dramatically.
During a speech last month, pollster and syndicated newspaper columnist Scott Rasmussen talked about dissatisfaction with our government. He noted many, perhaps most, Americans no longer have confidence in leaders of either major political party.
Very much the same attitude prevailed in 1776, when the colonists decided they no longer could rely on British politicians, Rasmussen added.
The situation is different now. Armed rebellion is neither necessary nor probable. And in some ways many Americans, like the 18th-century Tories, prefer the illusion of security to the blessings of liberty.
But if Rasmussen is right – and it is to be hoped he is – a growing number of Americans look upon the Declaration of Independence as a philosophy that ought to be reborn, through the peaceful mechanisms still available to us. If so, we indeed have reason to celebrate – and rededicate ourselves – today.