INDEPENDENCE DAYS: FREEDOM IN 1776 AND 2013
This July 4th, most Americans gathered with family, neighbors, friends, and fellow patriots to celebrate the United States’ 237th year as an independent nation. For some, the narrative of this day doesn’t move much beyond America’s fight against the British Crown and the successful establishment of a government of, by, and for the people. As we watch events unfold in Egypt, however, it is fitting to remember how radical and revolutionary those brave men and women were in 1776.
The Founders did not have a simple decision to make but a series of profoundly complicated, interconnected decisions and actions. Declaring independence and establishing a government are two very different (and often contradictory) challenges, the former demanding tremendous courage and incurring existential risk, while the latter is in many ways more fraught with long term peril.
What made the tasks possible was a simple vision: the nation must be free because the people had already asserted their liberty. In the Declaration, the signers stated, “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” The people in the streets of Cairo today, Tehran in 2009, and every city square where they are pushing for freedom would certainly see their own tyrants as morally unfit to rule.
Of course, we know that the path toward freedom is never simple or straightforward. As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said:
Yes, our ideals and our optimism make Americans impatient, but our history, our experience, should make us patient at the same time. We, of all people, realize how long and difficult the path of democracy really is. After all, when our Founding Fathers said “We the People,” they did not mean me. It took the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, to overcome the compromise in our Constitution that made the founding of the United States of America possible, but that made my ancestors three-fifths of a man.
There are reversals. Dictators learn to adapt to changing circumstances. Sometimes it’s as simple as unleashing brute force and violence. Thankfully, the British were unable to push back the Americans and reestablish unjust rule. America’s Founders still tempered their hope with caution:
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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 . . . .
Free peoples the world over have this same “right and duty” to throw off oppressive governments. One need not wait for despotism to arrive but should act when the designs are clear. Once the despot gets the upper hand and consolidates complete power (e.g. North Korea, Cuba, etc.), it can be very difficult to dislodge the cancer.
On this day of celebrating the courage of America’s Founders and the establishment of a country of free people governing themselves, it is always good to remind ourselves of the words of President Ronald Reagan: “Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have.” Indeed.
Kent Patton is the Editor of the Freedom Collection blog.
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